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Harris County

The next round of voter suppression bills are coming

Brace yourselves.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The only criminal involved

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Chron drops a big Hotze story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: Inside and out of the city

Most years we don’t get the data to differentiate between votes cast by residents of Houston and votes cast by Harris County non-Houston residents. There needs to be a citywide referendum of the ballot in order to get at this data. Fortunately, we had that this year, so we can take a look at how the races of interest shaped up. The usual caveat applies here, which is that this data is not exact. There are multiple precincts that are partially in Houston and partially not in Houston. Many of them have a tiny number of Houston-specific votes in them, with a much larger contingent of non-Houston votes. Counting these as Houston precincts means you wind up with a lot more total votes in Houston than were cast in the referenda elections, and gives you a distorted picture of the candidate percentages. I filter out precincts with ten or fewer votes cast in the Houston proposition elections, which is arbitrary and still yields more total votes than in the prop races themselves, but it’s close enough for these purposes. So with all that preamble, here’s the data:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Beto          317,736   277,917  63.43%  46.22%
Abbott        175,533   314,728  35.04%  52.34%

Collier       312,803   273,337  62.81%  45.64%
Patrick       171,319   312,803  34.40%  51.84%

Garza         312,022   272,513  62.83%  45.61%
Paxton        170,642   309,499  34.36%  51.80%

Dudding       294,958   255,993  59.69%  43.03%
Hegar         185,671   324,329  37.58%  54.52%

Kleberg       296,878   257,563  60.34%  43.45%
Buckingham    184,006   323,967  37.41%  54.65%

Hays          308,304   269,169  62.61%  45.36%
Miller        184,139   324,228  37.39%  54.64%

Warford       290,364   251,323  59.02%  42.41%
Christian     181,355   319,465  36.86%  53.91%

To be clear about what this data shows, Beto won the city of Houston by a margin of 317,736 to 175,533, or 63.43% to 35.04%, while Greg Abbott carried the non-Houston parts of the county 314,728 to 277,917. This is about 493K ballots cast for those two candidates, which doesn’t count third party and write-in candidates or undervotes; I didn’t tally them all up but we’d be at around 510K total ballots defined as being “Houston”. In actuality, there were 486K total ballots cast, including undervotes, in the city prop races. Like I said, this is plenty good enough for these purposes.

As noted, I don’t have a whole lot of data for this from previous elections, but what I do have can be found in these posts:

2008
2012
2018

There were city propositions in 2010, for red light cameras and ReNew Houston, but I didn’t do the same city-versus-not-city comparisons that year, almost certainly because 2010 was such a miserable year and I just didn’t want to spend any more time thinking about it than I had to.

Looking back at those earlier years, Beto fell short of the top performers in Houston, which in 2008 and 2012 was Adrian Garcia and which in 2018 was himself, but he did better in non-Houston Harris County. That’s consistent with what I’ve said before about how Democrats have overall grown their vote in the former strong Republican areas, while falling short on turnout – this year, at least – in the strong Democratic areas. Note how even the lowest scorers this year exceeded Obama’s performance in non-Houston by three or four points in 2008 and four or five points in 2012, while doing about as well in Houston. As I’ve said, Harris County is more Democratic now. This is another way of illustrating that.

Here’s the same breakdown for the countywide races:


Candidates    Houston   Not Hou    Hou%    Not%
===============================================
Hidalgo       294,968   257,935  59.79%  43.39%
Mealer        198,286   336,434  40.19%  56.59%

Burgess       290,267   255,860  60.14%  43.81%
Daniel        192,368   328,119  39.86%  56.19%

Hudspeth      293,030   256,624  60.84%  44.00%
Stanart       188,573   326,633  39.16%  56.00%

Wyatt         293,352   256,862  60.86%  44.00%
Scott         188,623   326,849  39.14%  56.00%

No third party candidates here, just a write-in who got a handful of votes for County Judge, so the percentages mostly add up to 100. More or less the same story here, with the distinction between Houston and not-Houston being smaller than in prior years. There won’t be any citywide propositions in 2024, not if we have them this coming November, but I’ll try to use the precinct data I have here to analyze that election. In what should be a stronger Democratic year, I’ll be very interested to see how things change. As always, let me know if you have any questions.

So what’s the deal with that I-45 deal?

Still to be determined.

Houston, Harris County and the Texas Department of Transportation have an agreed path forward for rebuilding Interstate 45, and a lot of steps to get there.

Details big and small remain works in progress and a federal pause looms as the last big hurdle, for now, as officials move ahead after last month’s agreements.

“We are doing everything we can to move this project forward,” James Koch, director of transportation planning and development for TxDOT in Houston, told a North Houston Association luncheon on Wednesday.

The group, focused on economic development north of the city, is a vocal supporter of the widening project because of its potential to improve access to downtown and revitalize sagging areas along the I-45 freeway corridor.

To get some of those benefits, officials first have to iron out technical issue that not only affect the $10 billion rebuild of I-45 and the downtown freeway system, but numerous other mobility projects that cross it. Among them:

  • How TxDOT will rebuild Interstate 69 beneath Metropolitan Transit Authority’s Red Line light rail in Midtown while keeping the trains moving as much as possible.
  • Addressing changes sought by the Harris County Flood Control District that improve drainage for neighborhoods north and south of the Loop 610 interchange with I-45.
  • Design specifics of the future I-45 interchange with Interstate 10 that accommodate Metro’s planned Inner Katy bus rapid transit line along I-10 and proposed managed lanes access to downtown streets.
  • Adding sidewalks and bike amenities to areas where TxDOT has committed to trying to reduce the number of properties it will take.
  • Determining how a proposed downtown connection for the Hardy Toll Road will enter the area near Buffalo Bayou and cross a remade I-10.
  • Reconsidering how the project will incorporate Metro’s plans for bus rapid transit into its overall design.

“I think the next steps are sitting down in a room and working out all the details,” Metro board Chairman Sanjay Ramabhadran said of the work ahead.

Those details are not the only obstacles to construction, which officials will consider moving from 2024 to 2027 later this month in the region’s four-year transportation plan. TxDOT still must acquire some property, Koch said, and the pending Federal Highway Administration review that the local agreements do not affect must be resolved.

[…]

Hailed by elected officials as a breakthrough that salvaged a desperately-needed freeway rebuild, the deals surprised critics of the initial design. They noted many of the details give TxDOT room to renege while others fall short of the changes some neighborhood advocates had sought.

In a statement, Air Alliance Houston said the agreements “will do very little to protect Houston communities from the harms posed by this project,” specifically related to air pollution caused by the larger freeway in many neighborhoods around the central business district.

“It would be difficult to overstate our disappointment in the contents of these two (agreements), the closed-door manner in which they were created and signed, the lack of sufficient time for the public to read and respond to them, and the tone with which they were presented,” the group said.

Officials have defended the deals as the best way to change the project but still maintain the benefits that will come with it, including faster and safer commutes and the creation of two-way managed lanes that can improve transit in the I-45 corridor.

See here for the background. I believe that’s the first I’ve heard of the construction timeline being pushed back to 2027, which is a modest benefit no matter what else happens. We still need to know what all these details are, and I definitely agree that there is room for TxDOT to weasel out on a lot of promises. But I have always believed that one way or another this was going to happen, so any improvements or modifications to the original plan have to be considered with that in mind. Metro is probably as eager as anyone to get this going, as their MetroNext plans depend on various items in the I-45 rebuild. I hope that as long as things are still being worked out there’s still room to get assurances and confirmations about the things that Metro has agreed to.

HD135 election contest dismissed

From the inbox:

This week, Speaker of the Texas House Dade Phelan dismissed the election contest filed by Mike May, the candidate who lost to Representative Jon Rosenthal in the 2022 election for house district 135. The case was dismissed because May failed to timely pay the security of costs required by Texas law.

“This quick dismissal shows these election contests are largely about political posturing and undermining our democratic processes,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “I thank Speaker Phelan and Representative Morgan Meyer for upholding the law and ensuring the will of the voters stands.”

Under Texas law, the Texas House of Representatives presided over this contest because it was filed by a candidate for that body. Unfortunately, more than 20 other election contests are still pending in Harris County—most of those races had greater vote margins than May’s. Those cases are expected to proceed over the next few months.

See here for the background. This one was particularly unserious, and the resolution shows how weak it was. Here’s County Attorney Menefee’s Twitter post, with a copy of the letter to May from Speaker Phelan:

My post about the HD135 election contest ran on December 3, so it was filed at least one day before then. The deadline for paying the required fee – I have no idea how much, but if there was even a sliver of a chance this was for real, this guy would have had no trouble getting some fat cat to pay for it as needed – was December 9. Maybe he could have gotten an extension if he’d asked and had some reason for it, but practically speaking this thing has been dead for a month.

This has no effect on the other challenges filed by other losing losers, as legislative contests are heard in the House while these others will be argued in a courtroom. They aren’t any more valid, they’re just in a different venue. From the County Attorney’s press release, they may take awhile to be resolved. I will of course keep an eye on them. The Trib, whose story published after I drafted this and which mostly recapitulates what I’ve got here, has more.

Precinct analysis: County executive offices

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread
Hidalgo versus Mealer
Better statewide races
Not as good statewide races

County races appear towards the bottom of the ballot, after all of the federal and state races. With the exception of County Judge, which is the first county office to appear, the other county races come after any county judicial elections, which we know in a non-presidential year is another two dozen, on top of all of the state judicial races you’ve just slogged through. In addition, unlike Presidential years when higher profile county offices like Sheriff and County Attorney and Tax Assessor appear (District Attorney is a state office), the ones on this ballot are low profile and mostly clerical in nature. You’d think this would be a recipe for a lot of indifference, but you’d be wrong.

District Clerk


Dist   Daniel  Burgess
======================
HD126  37,324   21,321
HD127  40,530   24,529
HD128  32,461   12,922
HD129  38,729   24,583
HD130  46,537   18,686
HD131   6,206   24,390
HD132  36,431   23,448
HD133  36,406   22,666
HD134  34,947   43,974
HD135  17,150   22,829
HD137   8,475   12,264
HD138  33,169   22,469
HD139  12,722   30,247
HD140   6,030   12,441
HD141   4,753   20,212
HD142   9,326   24,514
HD143   8,856   14,935
HD144  12,051   13,606
HD145  14,698   29,537
HD146   9,455   31,723
HD147  10,255   35,167
HD148  16,522   19,677
HD149  12,365   18,661
HD150  35,089   21,326
						
CC1    76,230  193,216
CC2    99,401  100,543
CC3   227,842  132,864
CC4   117,014  119,504
						
JP1    69,316  114,700
JP2    22,682   28,410
JP3    36,215   40,683
JP4   175,012  119,960
JP5   149,310  134,380
JP6     5,571   16,529
JP7    12,934   64,034
JP8    49,447   27,431

Dist  Daniel% Burgess%
======================
HD126  63.64%   36.36%
HD127  62.30%   37.70%
HD128  71.53%   28.47%
HD129  61.17%   38.83%
HD130  71.35%   28.65%
HD131  20.28%   79.72%
HD132  60.84%   39.16%
HD133  61.63%   38.37%
HD134  44.28%   55.72%
HD135  42.90%   57.10%
HD137  40.87%   59.13%
HD138  59.62%   40.38%
HD139  29.61%   70.39%
HD140  32.65%   67.35%
HD141  19.04%   80.96%
HD142  27.56%   72.44%
HD143  37.22%   62.78%
HD144  46.97%   53.03%
HD145  33.23%   66.77%
HD146  22.96%   77.04%
HD147  22.58%   77.42%
HD148  45.64%   54.36%
HD149  39.85%   60.15%
HD150  62.20%   37.80%
		
CC1    28.29%   71.71%
CC2    49.71%   50.29%
CC3    63.17%   36.83%
CC4    49.47%   50.53%
		
JP1    37.67%   62.33%
JP2    44.39%   55.61%
JP3    47.09%   52.91%
JP4    59.33%   40.67%
JP5    52.63%   47.37%
JP6    25.21%   74.79%
JP7    16.80%   83.20%
JP8    64.32%   35.68%

County Clerk


Dist  Stanart Hudspeth
======================
HD126  37,148   21,466
HD127  40,320   24,703
HD128  32,499   12,847
HD129  38,545   24,668
HD130  46,489   18,687
HD131   6,108   24,414
HD132  36,340   23,537
HD133  35,551   23,419
HD134  33,450   45,266
HD135  17,148   22,783
HD137   8,351   12,378
HD138  32,881   22,695
HD139  12,541   30,343
HD140   6,042   12,353
HD141   4,662   20,252
HD142   9,132   24,642
HD143   8,824   14,858
HD144  12,065   13,483
HD145  14,403   29,681
HD146   9,172   31,975
HD147   9,910   35,410
HD148  16,397   19,705
HD149  12,239   18,708
HD150  34,989   21,381
						
CC1    73,858  195,066
CC2    99,209  100,166
CC3   226,675  133,751
CC4   115,464  120,671
						
JP1    67,346  116,157
JP2    22,622   28,241
JP3    35,962   40,821
JP4   174,354  120,349
JP5   147,642  135,687
JP6     5,490   16,504
JP7    12,417   64,481
JP8    49,373   27,414

Dist Stanart%Hudspeth%
======================
HD126  63.38%   36.62%
HD127  62.01%   37.99%
HD128  71.67%   28.33%
HD129  60.98%   39.02%
HD130  71.33%   28.67%
HD131  20.01%   79.99%
HD132  60.69%   39.31%
HD133  60.29%   39.71%
HD134  42.49%   57.51%
HD135  42.94%   57.06%
HD137  40.29%   59.71%
HD138  59.16%   40.84%
HD139  29.24%   70.76%
HD140  32.85%   67.15%
HD141  18.71%   81.29%
HD142  27.04%   72.96%
HD143  37.26%   62.74%
HD144  47.22%   52.78%
HD145  32.67%   67.33%
HD146  22.29%   77.71%
HD147  21.87%   78.13%
HD148  45.42%   54.58%
HD149  39.55%   60.45%
HD150  62.07%   37.93%
		
CC1    27.46%   72.54%
CC2    49.76%   50.24%
CC3    62.89%   37.11%
CC4    48.90%   51.10%
		
JP1    36.70%   63.30%
JP2    44.48%   55.52%
JP3    46.84%   53.16%
JP4    59.16%   40.84%
JP5    52.11%   47.89%
JP6    24.96%   75.04%
JP7    16.15%   83.85%
JP8    64.30%   35.70%

County Treasurer


Dist    Scott    Wyatt
======================
HD126  37,264   21,436
HD127  40,378   24,663
HD128  32,433   12,955
HD129  38,523   24,788
HD130  46,578   18,647
HD131   6,062   24,496
HD132  36,413   23,479
HD133  35,705   23,303
HD134  33,479   45,200
HD135  17,156   22,790
HD137   8,369   12,377
HD138  32,829   22,780
HD139  12,576   30,341
HD140   5,929   12,518
HD141   4,682   20,256
HD142   9,167   24,621
HD143   8,706   15,000
HD144  11,924   13,703
HD145  14,410   29,702
HD146   9,159   31,995
HD147  10,015   35,364
HD148  16,333   19,766
HD149  12,214   18,772
HD150  35,168   21,262
						
CC1    74,077  194,887
CC2    98,597  101,176
CC3   227,110  133,538
CC4   115,688  120,613
						
JP1    67,326  116,212
JP2    22,460   28,561
JP3    35,972   40,808
JP4   174,785  120,166
JP5   147,814  135,680
JP6     5,410   16,643
JP7    12,496   64,441
JP8    49,209   27,703

Dist   Scott%   Wyatt%
======================
HD126  63.48%   36.52%
HD127  62.08%   37.92%
HD128  71.46%   28.54%
HD129  60.85%   39.15%
HD130  71.41%   28.59%
HD131  19.84%   80.16%
HD132  60.80%   39.20%
HD133  60.51%   39.49%
HD134  42.55%   57.45%
HD135  42.95%   57.05%
HD137  40.34%   59.66%
HD138  59.04%   40.96%
HD139  29.30%   70.70%
HD140  32.14%   67.86%
HD141  18.77%   81.23%
HD142  27.13%   72.87%
HD143  36.72%   63.28%
HD144  46.53%   53.47%
HD145  32.67%   67.33%
HD146  22.26%   77.74%
HD147  22.07%   77.93%
HD148  45.25%   54.75%
HD149  39.42%   60.58%
HD150  62.32%   37.68%
		
CC1    27.54%   72.46%
CC2    49.35%   50.65%
CC3    62.97%   37.03%
CC4    48.96%   51.04%
		
JP1    36.68%   63.32%
JP2    44.02%   55.98%
JP3    46.85%   53.15%
JP4    59.26%   40.74%
JP5    52.14%   47.86%
JP6    24.53%   75.47%
JP7    16.24%   83.76%
JP8    63.98%   36.02%

Despite appearing so much lower on the ballot, the per-district vote totals in these races are about the same for the two major parties. They’re lower overall because there are no third party candidates in these races, and that lack of mostly Libertarians does seem to be better for the Republicans than the Democrats. Not enough to swing any individual district – only the two swing Commissioners Court precincts are that close to begin with, and the Dems prevailed in all three races here anyway.

The simple fact is that despite the lack of straight-ticket voting, and the often-complained-about length of the ballot, people voted to the bottom of it anyway. There were more people who skipped these races than did so for Railroad Commissioner, the last of the statewide executive offices, but not that much more. About 40K people on average skipped these three races, compared with a bit less than 23K for RRC. That looks like a significant difference, but it’s still less than four percent of the total turnout. Putting it another way, more than 96% of the people who cast a ballot in November of 2022 cast a ballot in these three races.

That is slightly less than it was in 2018, the last year of straight ticket voting, when nearly 97% of the people who voted cast ballots in these races, plus the two countywide HCDE races; to put it another way, the undervote rate in these races was generally between 2.5 and 3 percent. Some people will skip races that are not of interest to them, I will absolutely stipulate to that. I’m just saying it’s not as much as you might think.

Two more things: One is that the undervote rate was higher in judicial races. I’ll go into more detail on those in subsequent posts, but even there it topped out at about five percent. I’m here to tell you, because I’ve looked at this before, the undervote rate in City Council races is much higher than that, and that’s a much shorter ballot. The other thing, and this may be my favorite bit of data from this election, is that there were about 800 more votes in the Treasurer race than there were in the County Clerk race, which was immediately before the Treasurer’s race on the ballot. Carla Wyatt, the Treasurer-elect, won more than 60% of those 800+ extra votes. Why did those eight hundred and some people vote in the Treasurer’s race but not the County Clerk’s race? I have no idea. But they did, and finding little oddities like that always delights me. I hope it at least amuses you. Let me know if you have any questions.

A walk through four districts, part 3: Try this at home!

In Part One I described my weird idea to take a stroll into four Congressional districts, something I decided I could do after taking a close look at the new map in Houston. In Part 2, I took you on that walk with me. Now I’m going to show how this could be done elsewhere and with different types of districts.

We do redistricting every ten years, so you might wonder why I picked Congressional districts as the object of this little obsession. Congressional redistricting had national implications, of course. As this recent DMN story points out, Texas Republicans squeezed out four more districts than the overall electoral numbers suggest they were entitled to, giving them nearly all of the seats needed to achieve a majority in the House. I wasn’t thinking of that a year ago, of course, but I definitely spent more time thinking about the Congressional map than about the others. It was that new Congressional map that I had zoomed in on, to see what things looked like in my immediate area, that gave me the inspiration.

But what about those other maps? How about in the State House, where the districts are smaller and there are 24 of them in Harris County? (There ought to be 25, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) In the previous map, my neighborhood was sliced in half for no particular reason, which meant that I’d travel between HDs 145 and 148 every day walking my dog. Our neighborhood has been reunited under the new map, so I would need to travel a little farther to cross State House boundaries. That made me think, which State House districts did I pass through as I did Wednesday’s walk? Let’s take a look!

I started in HD145, entered HD147 when I turned south on Heights after walking along the boundary once I passed Studewood, and then reached the boundary with HD134 at Washington. I was fully in HD134 once I was west of Shepherd.

But look closer! With a slight modification, I could have started in HD142, on Jensen south of Lorraine, walked north to Quitman, then followed the same route to eventually get to HD134, with a terminus at the HEB just south of Washington. I didn’t fool around with Google Maps for this, but that looks like a roughly equivalent distance. I’m not surprised that this was doable in such close proximity, but I would not have guessed that these would be the four districts involved. This is why it’s fun to play with maps, kids.

That wasn’t where I had picked for what may be the shortest walk needed to be in four State House districts. Take a look at this:

Just start on Yorktown and walk till you’re past Fayette. Google Maps shows this as 1.6 miles because it won’t let you cross San Felipe or Westheimer at Yorktown – it insists on making you hike all the way to Sage, then doubling back on Westheimer to return to Yorktown – so as the crow flies it’s probably not much more than a mile. Someone who knows that area better than I do will have to tell me why you can’t just walk all the way down Yorktown. Be that as it may, even with the detours, it’s a pretty short walk.

By the way, why is that tiny rectangle south of Westheimer and east of Chimney Rock in HD137 and not HD134? I have no idea. Either it’s a super-optimization of whatever evil redistricting software the Republicans used, or someone asked for that specific change for some reason. I’ll throw the question out to you if you think you know the answer.

There are a couple of other possibilities in Harris County. Zooming out a bit, south of I-10 and east of US59 you could get from HD142 to HD147 via HDs 142 and 145, and north of 610 you could get from HD141 to HD145 via HDs 140 and 142, though you’d have to cross US59 to do it, which might be dicey on foot.

Looking elsewhere in the state, I see possibilities in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas, where I even see a possible five-district walk:

Start in that weird southern finger of HD108 and head south-ish to wind up in HD104, passing through HDs 114, 100, and 103 along the way. You have to cross the junction of I-30 and I-35, which sounds like a nightmare, but maybe it’s doable. Point is, these districts are all right up against each other.

You might think that State Senate districts would be too large for this, as there are eight fewer of them than there are Congressional districts. Challenge accepted:

Start on Piney Point Road near San Felipe and head south as it becomes Fondren, and go a few blocks south of Richmond, to have visited SDs 07, 17, 15, and 13. There may be other possibilities elsewhere, but I was happy enough with that to quit looking.

Going back to Congress for a minute, I see opportunities again in San Antonio, Austin, and Dallas as before. That DMN story highlights a couple of places where the distance between one district and another, with a third in between, is ridiculously thin, like less than a quarter mile in the Dallas case. But just to finish this post, let me show you what my original walk route looked like under the old map:

Starting a bit farther east on Quitman in CD29, I could have headed on Quitman to White Oak to either Studewood or Yale, then gone south to Allen Parkway and east to Shepherd to visit CDs 18, 02, and 07 along the way. That might even have been a slightly shorter walk. Just a reminder that this was a thing before I ever decided to try it out, and will likely continue to be a thing ten years from now when we do this all again. Now go play with those maps and plan your own walk.

PS: I should have noted sooner that John Nova Lomax did a great series of articles some years ago when he wrote for the Houston Press in which he walked the entire length of a well-known Houston thoroughfare – Richmond and Shepherd are the two I remember from the series – and wrote about the experience. Some of the walks he took were in excess of ten miles and took him all day; he had planned meal and bathroom stops along the way, out of necessity. I don’t have that on my itinerary any time soon, but I was thinking about it as I did this walk.

Additional Losing Candidates File Election Contests in Harris County

That’s the subject of the following email I got in my inbox yesterday, and I can’t do any better than that for a post title.

Additional Losing Candidates File Election Contests in Harris County

Houston, Texas – Today, several losing Republican candidates filed election contests to void the more than 1 million votes cast in Harris County’s November 2022 election. Thus far, the Harris County Attorney’s Office has identified filings by (and we expect more filings to be made today):

  • Mark Montgomery, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 6 (lost to Judge Kelley Andrews)
  • Matthew Dexter, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 12 (lost to Judge Genesis Draper)
  • Brian Staley, former candidate for Harris County Civil County Court at Law No. 4. (lost to Judge Manpreet Monica Singh)
  • Mark Goldberg, former candidate for Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 8 (lost to Judge Erika Ramirez)
  • Bruce Bain, former candidate for the 269th District Court (lost to Judge Cory Sepolio)
  • Michelle Fraga, former candidate for the 281st District Court (lost to Judge Christine Weems)
  • Elizabeth Buss, former candidate for the Harris County Criminal Court at Law No. 5 (lost to Judge David Fleischer)
  • Chris Daniel, former candidate for Harris County District Clerk (lost to Marilyn Burgess)

These filings are in addition to previously announced contests by:

  • Erin Lunceford, former candidate for the 189th District Court (lost to Judge Tamika Craft)
  • Tami Pierce, former candidate for the 180th District Court (lost to Judge DaSean Jones)
  • Alexandra Mealer, former candidate for Harris County Judge (lost to Judge Lina Hidalgo)
  • Mike May, former candidate for State Representative District 135 (lost to Representative Jon Rosenthal)

Below is the statement from the County Attorney released this morning:

“This is a shameful attempt by a group of losing candidates who couldn’t win the hearts and minds of Harris County voters and are now throwing nonsensical legal theories at the wall to see what sticks. Each of them should be deeply embarrassed and these claims should not be taken seriously by the public,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “These losing candidates are finally laying bare what we all know to be true – for them, it’s not about improving elections or making sure our elections are secure, it’s about playing games with our democratic systems and refusing to accept the will of the voters.”

The contests being filed request that the more than one million votes cast in Harris County be voided and the county hold another election for the races being challenged (e.g., Harris County Judge, 189th District Court, 180th District Court, etc.).

“These election contests are frivolous attempts to overturn the votes of more than a million residents in the third largest county in the country. The county will now have to spend substantial resources handling these contests, time that could instead be spent serving the people of Harris County,” added County Attorney Menefee. “Voters have moved on. Public servants have moved on. These losing candidates should move on too.”

See here and here for the background. The judge in the Lunceford contest was assigned on December 13, I don’t know what has happened since then. I do know that at least one more loser has filed a loser’s contest, but I don’t care to give any of this any more validity. You can read the Chron story here and their explainer about election contests here. I think the Trib story contains the most relevant bit of information:

The Election Day problems were unlikely to have been substantial enough to swing the results of the Harris County judge’s race, according to Bob Stein, a political science professor at Rice University.

Nearly 70% of voters cast their ballots during the early voting period, but Mealer only cites issues on Election Day itself.

“I’m extremely doubtful that there is a legitimate legal challenge here,” Stein said. “It’s not like voters were told they couldn’t vote or that they had to go home. They were discouraged because the lines were long, or because they were told they’d have to wait.”

Those challenges do not amount to voter suppression, Stein said, but merely suggest that Harris County should operate fewer, better-resourced polling locations.

To make its case, Mealer’s legal team will have to find evidence that more than 18,000 voters were unable to cast ballots on Election Day, and that all of those voters planned to vote for Mealer, Stein said.

And every voter who might have been discouraged by issues at one location could have gone to another one, which would have been at most a couple of minutes away by car. Even at the highest end of the estimate of locations that had issues, more than 90% of them did not. We have multiple locations at which anyone can vote precisely as a hedge against problems at any one specific location. In the old days, when you had to vote at your precinct location, you really were screwed. Now you can just go somewhere else. Even in the case of the loser who lost to DaSean Jones by 449 votes, it’s extremely hard to imagine there could have been enough people who encountered problems and could not vote anywhere else and would have voted for the loser to make a difference. This is all bullshit and should be seen as such. Campos and the Texas Signal have more.

Precinct analysis: Hidalgo versus Mealer

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott
Beto versus the spread

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s winter surge time again

Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, though I think you already suspected this.


COVID-19 cases are rising across Texas two weeks after the Thanksgiving holiday, echoing last year’s surge of the omicron variant.

There are more than 18,000 positive cases across the state this week, up from a little over 7,000 the week of Thanksgiving.

“Thanksgiving this year was kind of like PTSD,” said epidemiologist Katelyn Jetelina, author of Your Local Epidemiologist. “I think all of us epidemiologists were holding our breath, just to make sure this was going to be a regular Thanksgiving.”

While hospitalizations and deaths are still low thanks to COVID-19 vaccinations and the updated bivalent booster that targets omicron, cases have been steadily climbing since November.

The change this year, Jetelina said, is the combination of flu, RSV, and now COVID. The Texas Department of State Health Services reports the intensity of influenza-like illness has remained “very high” in the past few weeks, with an increase in the number of influenza outbreaks and more than 28,000 positive flu tests in the week ending in Dec. 3.

“RSV and flu are just back with vengeance,” she said. “We’re starting to get a sneak peek of what this new normal is.”

Other states, like New York, have issued a health advisory to encourage people to mask indoors while cases are high. Jetelina said it’s important to think about protecting the most vulnerable members of the community, like the elderly and folks who are immunocompromised.

“I’m going to have 90-year-old people at my house for Christmas this year,” she said. “That, to me, means I am wearing an N-95 mask in public everywhere I go the week before Christmas. It helps ensure I don’t miss the event because I’m sick, but it also helps break that transmission chain so I don’t bring it to my grandparents.”

She says it’s not too late to get vaccinated to protect against COVID and the flu.

“I’m tired, everyone’s tired, [but] the virus isn’t tired of us,” she said.

We saw this coming in October, and we know what a “tripledemic” is. The virus levels in the wastewater are high. You know what I’m going to tell you: Get your bivalent booster and your flu shot. Wear that mask in crowded indoor spaces. Isolate yourself if you feel sick. Think about the high-risk people in your life. We’re not in 2020 any more, and the current dominant strains are thankfully not as virulent as delta was. You really can do a lot to maximize your safety while giving up very little. But you have to actually do it.

Yep, still no voter fraud found

So says the official 2020 election audit.

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New Land Commissioner, same screw job for Houston and Harris County

I didn’t expect any different. I’m still mad about it.

(Probably) Not Dawn Buckingham

When akewayLakeway Republican Dawn Buckingham jumps from the Texas Senate to the helm of the state General Land Office next month, she will inherit control of the state’s Hurricane Harvey recovery, a slow-moving multibillion-dollar effort to help Southeast Texas recover from the 2017 storm and prepare for future ones.

With two weeks left in his term, outgoing Land Commissioner George P. Bush remains at odds with Houston and Harris County officials over two key issues: the state agency’s efforts to seize funds from the city’s beleaguered housing recovery programs, and the distribution of billions in federal aid meant to protect storm-vulnerable areas against future damage — none of which is going to Houston, thus far.

In an interview this week, Buckingham, who easily defeated Democrat Jay Kleberg in last month’s midterm election, made clear she will continue steering the Harvey recovery in much the same manner as Bush, with no plans to redistribute the mitigation aid so Houston and Harris County receive a bigger slice, as local officials had hoped.

Buckingham said the agency also would continue its ongoing efforts to recoup from the city nearly $141 million earmarked for housing recovery, small business grants and various nonprofit services, a move spurred by the city’s failure to meet key spending benchmarks over the summer. The GLO plans to put the money into its own program focused on rebuilding Harvey-damaged single-family homes in Houston, which previously was run by the city before it ceded control to the state agency last year.

“What we’re seeing is, they haven’t been able to meet their own metrics,” Buckingham said. “And so, I think with the limited amount of time that these resources are available, and the limited amount of recovery that’s happened at this point, we’re anticipating that there’s going to be a redirection of funds.”

The feud between the General Land Office and city of Houston erupted in April 2020, when Bush informed Mayor Sylvester Turner he planned to take over the city’s entire $1.3 billion recovery program, arguing his agency could pick up the pace. After a legal skirmish, the two sides struck a deal in early 2021, with Turner relinquishing control of Houston’s sluggish single-family housing program, leaving the city with some $835 million to continue its other initiatives, including a more successful effort to build affordable multifamily housing.

As part of the deal, the city and GLO agreed on spending benchmarks to measure the city’s progress on each of its remaining programs. This summer, the GLO notified the city it had missed the mark on seven of its nine programs, spending nearly $100 million less than it should have, according to a July letter from Deputy Land Commissioner Mark Havens. As a result, the agency in October laid out its plan to recover about $141 million from the city, pending approval from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Houston officials long have accused the Land Office of providing opaque oversight that has obstructed their recovery progress, a charge the GLO denies. City leaders also say their programs prioritize low-income, disabled and senior residents, which they say is harder and slower but necessary to ensure the most vulnerable storm victims are not left behind.

In the latest $141 million dispute, the city’s housing director, Keith Bynam, has said the Land Office is painting a misleading picture by overlooking factors beyond the city’s control, such as adverse economic conditions and the city’s inability to spend money on three of its programs for about eight months while it was under a GLO audit.

[…]

A Chronicle investigation found the GLO’s initial $1 billion distribution went disproportionately to inland counties that, by the state’s own measure, are less vulnerable to natural disasters than coastal counties that received little or no funding.

HUD also found the Land Office discriminated against communities of color when it denied aid to Houston and Harris County, with scoring criteria that steered funds away from diverse urban centers and toward projects in whiter, more rural counties, according to the federal agency.

GLO officials have disputed the finding and rejected calls from federal housing officials to negotiate a settlement with Houston-area officials. The agency has also ignored an initial HUD deadline to come into compliance with civil rights protections, along with a subsequent letter over the summer from HUD Secretary Marcia Fudge, who said she may refer the matter to the Department of Justice if Texas did not reach a voluntary agreement within 60 days.

Havens said the Land Office has not heard from HUD or the Justice Department since. Turner spokeswoman Mary Benton said the city also had yet to hear from the Biden administration, though the mayor on Thursday sent Fudge a follow-up letter urging her to step in.

“More than 9 months have passed since HUD issued the (discrimination finding) and yet GLO and the State of Texas, to our knowledge, have taken no steps to come into compliance,” Turner wrote. “…It is imperative, now, more than ever, that HUD immediately exercise its enforcement authority and compel GLO to come into compliance with” the findings.

I don’t have the energy to catalog the entire Story So Far, but the two most recent entries are here and here. While I can believe that the city may have performed poorly with the housing recovery program, the GLO has no credibility with me and doesn’t deserve anyone’s benefit of the doubt. I would be delighted to see HUD hand their files over to the Justice Department for a full on investigation of their discriminatory practices; indeed, I will be deeply annoyed if that doesn’t happen given their continued non-responsiveness to HUD’s demands. In the meantime, I continue to fantasize about a time when Harris County and the city of Houston are not targeted for harm by our state government. I hope to live long enough to see it.

Agreement reached on I-45 expansion plans

I remain skeptical, but we’ll see.

The bottleneck of design differences that has divided officials about remaking Interstate 45 north of downtown Houston is easing, officials said Monday, clearing the way for construction on the $10 billion project, perhaps in less than two years.

“There is no perfect design,” Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner said. “On balance, with the improvements … I think you have an excellent project that will move forward and move the greater good.”

The agreement outlines plans for widening the freeway by adding two managed lanes in each direction from downtown Houston north to Beltway 8, along with various frontage road and interchange alterations.

“We are ready to move forward together,” said Texas Transportation Commissioner Laura Ryan.

After spending months at loggerheads, but working on some consensus, the Texas Department of Transportation committed to a handful of concessions, such as increasing the money it will pay the Houston Housing Authority for relocation and development of affordable housing, and assurances to design the project as much within the current freeway footprint as possible. The project also connects to trails for running and biking, adds air monitoring in certain areas, adds features aimed at encouraging transit use and commits to stormwater design changes sought by the Harris County Flood Control District.

“Not all the things we wanted materialized, but that is compromise,” said Harris County Pct. 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

The agreement announced Monday does not remove the pause the Federal Highway Administration placed on the project in March 2021. But with blessing of local, state and federal elected officials, it is likely TxDOT and the FHWA could come to a separate agreement and work could proceed, people involved in the deal said.

[…]

The agreements are a rare case of a major Texas highway project receiving major changes, prompted by community opposition, after officials had essentially greenlit its construction. The deals, however, also give TxDOT room to consider alternatives that reduce the number of homes and businesses displaced, but also do not hold them to any specific reductions.

“We expect TxDOT to uphold its end of this historic agreement, and not only to evaluate the impacts over the next year but to agree to and fund real solutions that address concerns about displacement, pollution, flooding and impacts on the public transportation network,” said Harris County Pct. 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis.

The difference in visions has dogged the project for more than two years, but progress on remaking the freeway hit two large potholes in March 2021, after critics of the widening convinced some local officials to step in and federal highway officials paused work. Around the same time, Harris County sued TxDOT, saying the designs did not adequately address the impacts of noise and pollution in some communities, notably the North Side and Independence Heights.

In the roughly 20 months since, officials chipped away at the differences, postponing action on the county’s lawsuit and awaiting the federal review, while exploring what changes TxDOT could make to appease concerns. In the interim, Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Garcia, who both were outspoken about the need for changes to the design, were reelected.

The two new agreements, one between TxDOT and the city and another between TxDOT and Harris County, specify the commitments both sides are making. Turner signed the city’s agreement Monday, after it was signed by TxDOT Executive Director Marc Williams. The county’s agreement can only be approved after a Commissioners’ Court meeting, scheduled for Thursday. Approval of the deal would automatically trigger a request by county officials drop the lawsuit against TxDOT.

Most of the new details are similar to requests Turner made in August 2021, and correspond with requests county officials raised more than a year ago, which state highway officials said they could not approve because they locked TxDOT into commitments on side ventures that were not included in the project.

Opponents of TxDOT’s design, finalized in 2019, said they needed to review specifics of the two agreements, but remained opposed to some of the fundamental features included in the plans.

“TxDOT has yet to adequately respond to community concerns about induced demand — the phenomenon by which wider highways make traffic worse,” the group Stop TxDOT I-45 said in a statement.

“We want a project that does not displace, and we know that wide freeways do not relieve traffic,” the group said. “We are excited to remain an active partner in this planning and development process.”

The city’s press release is here. On the one hand, I have faith that local political leaders who have been vocal in their opposition to TxDOT’s previous plans have done their best to get as good a deal as they can. They couldn’t hold out forever – there’s a lot of pressure to make I-45 renovation and expansion happen – and no one gets everything they want in a negotiation. If I trusted them before I have no reason not to trust them now. That doesn’t mean I’ll agree with every decision they made, but I start out with the belief that they did their best to act in our interest.

On the other hand, I and others who live close to I-45 and will be directly affected by whatever does happen in some way – and let’s be clear, lots of people will be much more directly affected than I will – are under no obligation to like this agreement, no matter how reasonable it may be and no matter how unprecedented it may be for TxDOT to bend as much as they apparently did. I don’t care how long it takes some dude to drive into town from The Woodlands. I’m perfectly happy telling them all to take one of the commuter buses in, and if the service for that is inadequate to push for it to be improved. I have no interest in prioritizing those needs over anyone else’s. I appreciate that Mayor Turner, Congresswoman Jackson Lee, Judge Hidalgo, Commissioners Ellis and Garcia, County Attorney Menefee, and everyone I’m forgetting eventually had to say Yes to a sincere and meaningful counteroffer. I really do believe they did the best they could and that we’re overall in a much better place than when we started and that we worked hard for it. But I still don’t have to like it. I’ll try to learn to live with it. That’s the best I can do. CultureMap has more.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus the spread

PREVIOUSLY
Beto versus Abbott

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

November 2022 mail ballot rejection report

Still getting better, still some room to improve.

The statewide ballot rejection rate dramatically reduced to 2.7 percent in the general election this fall after it had skyrocketed to six times that in the primaries following the introduction of a Republican-backed change to mail ballot ID requirements, state data shows.

“That’s obviously a big improvement,” said Sen. Paul Bettencourt, a Houston Republican who helped author the law that instituted the new rule. “I expect that even 2.7 will continue to go down as everyone understands exactly how the system works.”

Senate Bill 1 — passed by Texas Republicans in 2021 in the name of election integrity — requires voters to include a state ID number, such as a driver’s license or partial Social Security number when applying for a mail-in ballot and when submitting it. The ID number on the ballot has to match what is on the voter’s registration record, a detail many voters did not recall.

Remi Garza, the elections administrator for Cameron County and president of the Texas Association of Elections Administrators, said he was pleased to see the decrease statewide (his county’s rate was 1.34 percent). But at the same time, he said he still sees room for improvement.

“I think it’s a great indication of the hard work that election offices across the state are doing,” Garza said. “I’m glad the information that has been distributed by everyone has had an impact on bringing the rejection rate down, but obviously it’s still way too high. We need to work harder to communicate with the vote-by-mail applicants on how to assure their vote is going to be counted.”

Sam Taylor, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, added that the office launched a bilingual voter education campaign, updated the design of the mail ballot envelopes to highlight the ID field in red, sent out example inserts to remind voters of the ID rule and produced an educational video series on voting by mail.

[…]

This latest 2.7 percent rate brings the state nearly back to normal levels. A federal survey estimated the state’s ballot rejection rate was 1.76 percent in the 2018 midterm and 1.5 percent in the 2014 midterm.

Preliminary numbers last month showed about 4 percent of ballots were denied during the general election this November, or about 10,000 among most of the state’s largest counties. That was before the deadline for voters to correct errors on their ballots, however. In total, about 9,300 ballots were finally rejected.

Harris County, the state’s largest county with almost 3 million voters registered, lagged behind most large counties with about 4.5 percent of ballots tossed.

Nadia Hakim, deputy director of communications for Harris County Elections, in a statement Thursday attributed the difference to the county’s size.

“We have significantly more voters over a greater area than our neighbors statewide,” Hakim said. “Dallas County is the second-largest, and Harris County has over a million more registered voters.”

Dallas County’s rejection rate was 1.76 percent, per the state data. At least two other large counties had higher rates than Harris — Fort Bend at 5 percent and Bell at 5.5 percent.

See here and here for some background. This is an improvement, and the extra time at the end to make corrections helped, but screw Paul Bettencourt and his rationalizations. If we had to pass this provision – and there’s no reason to believe it has actually done anything to improve election security – we needed to delay it long enough for the education and communication efforts made by county officials and the Secretary of State to take place first. If that had been done, then maybe we wouldn’t have had such and embarrassing and shameful number of rejections in the first election where this was in effect. Bettencourt and the rest of the Republicans didn’t care about that, They don’t get to feel good, or to try to make us feel good, about the eventual improvements made thanks to the hard work of election officials, candidate campaigns, and coordinated county campaigns.

I will also note that I don’t know where the Chron got their 4.5% figure from. Going by the reconciliation report, there were 2,672 mail ballots rejected out of 64,259 total mail ballots. That’s a 4.16% rejection rate. Even if you incorrectly use 61,264 (the total number of mail ballots successfully cast) as the denominator, that’s a 4.36% rejection rate, still less than the 4.5% number cited in the story. Maybe they did that math and then “rounded up” from there, I don’t know. However they got it it, it’s wrong.

Speaking of the reconciliation report, the numbers there are a little off from what we can see elsewhere. The form says that 80,995 mail ballots were sent, which is 579 more than what the final early vote report said. That report is not “official”, though, so perhaps there’s a bit of slack in there. Since the question came up in an earlier comment, I think the 19,486 figure for “Mail ballots not returned by voters” must include those 2,672 rejected ballots, as technically they weren’t returned. The difference between those two figures is 61,509, which is pretty accurate for the mail ballots cast total. Going by the official canvass, there were 61,264 mail ballots cast, not 61,509. It’s a small difference, but I don’t know what accounts for it. Maybe some provisional ballots were mail ballots? I don’t know. But again, it’s close enough that I’m not too fussed by it. I strongly suspect that the 6,557 “Mail ballots surrendered” are also contained within the “Mail ballots not returned” figure, as again they were technically not returned. I blame any confusion here on the Lege for not requiring that definitions of these terms be included on the report. Anyway, I hope I have lessened the confusion a bit rather than add to it. Let me know if you have any questions.

Some Harris County courts get Zoom bombed

Not a story I expected to read this week.

Pornographic videos were shown in several Harris County courtrooms Tuesday in what county officials are calling a “Zoom bombing” incident.

“Several Harris County Courts at Law experienced zoom bombing — or unauthorized screen sharing — of explicit images during the daily docket this morning. The incidents were quickly reported to court administrative staff, and the feeds were immediately shut down,” Holly Huffman, spokesperson for the Harris County Office of Court Management, said in a statement.

Huffman said the incident had been reported to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Judicial Threat Unit for investigation, and that increased security measures have been put in place for Zoom links at all county courts.

Up to seven misdemeanor courtrooms were affected, according to ABC13, which first reported the incident.

“This is the first instance of unauthorized screen sharing during a County Court at Law proceeding since the 2020 implementation of zoom proceedings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have provided thousands of hours of online court proceedings since then with no such issue,” Huffman said.

Huffman said the county is reviewing their security measures “to strike a balance between ensuring public access to the judiciary and preventing such an incident from happening again.”

Here’s a reminder of what Zoom bombing is, in case you’ve forgotten. That ABC13 story adds a bit of detail.

How the hack managed to happen to multiple courts was the talk of the day within the corridors of justice in Harris County on Tuesday, often accompanied by a chuckle with a wisp of bewilderment.

ABC13 has confirmed that at least three and possibly up to seven of the misdemeanor courts in Harris County were hacked with pornographic videos.

The COVID-19 pandemic led to Zoom court hearings to become commonplace in Harris County’s court systems. Judges would turn on a Zoom video link daily, making court proceedings accessible to attorneys and citizens who cannot make it there in person.

In the middle of the docket, the images began popping up on several of the court’s video screens.

“I saw 10 or 12 seconds of it, in the middle of the courtroom,” Tyler Flood, an attorney who saw the porn, said. “It was crazy. The entire huge screen got taken over by it. The camera was really zoomed in. Shocking!”

Several court coordinators, who did not want their names used, also confirmed to ABC13 that they saw porn on their computer screens. The coordinators said their judges simply turned off the Zoom, and court continued in real life.

At least one attorney shared an email stating that Zoom sessions for the court she was expected to conduct business in had been cancelled for the day because of the porn hack.

Flood, who is a past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, hopes the unwanted, graphic intrusion does not lead to the end of Zoom in court.

“Because that has been one of the only good things that came from COVID,” he said. “As for the porn…’I wish I could un-see it.'”

Zoom bombing was pretty common early on, as everyone turned to Zoom and their security controls weren’t up to the task. My best guess here is that someone shared the Zoom links – I’m assuming that each of the courts in question had their own Zoom session and thus their own meeting links, though this is not clear from the story – with whoever was responsible for this. The “increased security measures” probably means that you get admitted into a “waiting room” and have to be admitted by the host, hopefully after they have verified that you belong on the call. Again, I’m just guessing here. Of all the cybersecurity incidents that could have affected the courts, this is pretty low on the risk list. I hope they’re reviewing other security controls to make sure nothing worse is likely to happen.

Precinct analysis: Beto versus Abbott

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My notes:

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

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

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

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

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

Judge assigned to hear election loser contest

From the inbox, a press release from Harris County Attorney Christian Menefee:

Judge David Peeples will preside over the election contest filed by Republican candidate Erin Lunceford to void the results of her race for the 189th District Court in the November 2022 Harris County General Election. Judge Peeples has set an initial status conference for today, Tuesday December 13, at 3:00 p.m.

“This will be an important case, and I’m glad to see it’s progressing,” said Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee. “The County will participate in the case, and we plan to make clear that it would be a grave injustice to throw out more than a million legally cast votes, especially given Ms. Lunceford’s completely baseless theories. Each of those votes represents a Harris County resident who participated in our democratic process. That is a sacred act, and we’re going to fight to protect it.”

Judge Peeples is based in San Antonio, and was appointed by the Honorable Susan Brown, the Presiding Judge of the Eleventh Administrative Judicial Region of Texas. Texas law disqualifies the judges in a county from presiding over an election contest filed in that county.

This contest is one of two current requests by losing Republican candidates to throw out the results of the November 2022 election in certain races. The other challenge is regarding State Representative District 135, which will be heard in the State House of Representatives.

“This election took countless hours of work not only by county employees, but by election judges and workers from both parties. We should be looking for ways to support these public servants rather than constantly undermining the hard work it takes to run an election in the third largest county in the country,” added County Attorney Menefee.

See here for the background. If the name sounds familiar, it may be because Judge Peeples was the jurist who ruled that the abortion bounty hunter law SB8 violated the state constitution last December, though he did not issue a statewide injunction against it. I did not see any news items related to this, so what you see here is all I know. Hopefully we will hear more about how this is progressing quickly.

And now we have a judicial loser contesting the election

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I regret to inform you that “tripledemic” is a word

The good news is that we may avoid it here in Houston.

A collision of three respiratory viruses — COVID-19, influenza and RSV — may not hit Houston as severely as other parts of the country, experts say, but pediatric hospitals are still preparing for a busy winter season with at least some virus overlap.

Texas Medical Center data published Tuesday shows early signs of another COVID wave, with an uptick in hospitalizations and the positivity rate, which jumped from 3.2 percent to 5 percent last week. COVID wastewater surveillance also offers a grim outlook, as the viral load rose for the fifth straight week, to 196 percent of the baseline set in July 2020. Newer variants make it difficult to predict the size and severity of the next wave of infections, experts say.

Meanwhile, RSV and flu, two respiratory viruses that commonly infect children, continue to circulate at high levels, weeks after patients began filling beds and prolonging wait times in Houston pediatric hospitals. Despite the ongoing strain, infectious disease experts believe Houston can avoid a so-called “tripledemic,” in which three simultaneous virus surges overwhelm hospital systems.

Statewide surveillance shows both RSV and flu have either peaked or declined.

“At least for us, here in Houston, the story that’s being written is we had this very early peak of flu and RSV and they’re starting to come down,” said Dr. Wesley Long, the medical director of diagnostic microbiology at Houston Methodist. “But then we’re probably going to see a winter speed bump of COVID.”

Dr. Melanie Kitagawa, medical director of the Texas Children’s Hospital pediatric ICU, said there are roughly 50 children admitted to Texas Children’s with RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, which usually causes mild cold-like symptoms but can be severe for infants and older adults. That number has remained steady for at least a month, but flu admissions have been decreasing across the hospital system, she said.

Flu and RSV admissions have stayed at consistently high levels at Children’s Memorial Hermann for weeks, said Dr. Michael Chang, an infectious disease pediatrician at the hospital who is affiliated with UTHealth Houston.

Chang expects RSV to become more manageable before COVID ramps up. The percentage of positive RSV tests has dropped across the state since early October, from roughly 25 percent to less than 15 percent, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

For him, flu rates are more of a concern. Texas’ flu infection rate of 29 percent is among the highest in the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“For flu, what I really worry about is that people have returned to normal behaviors, and vaccine uptake doesn’t seem to be really good,” he said. “From what I’ve seen of the new COVID numbers, we may see an unfortunate confluence of (COVID) and significant flu cases. But luckily I think we will avoid a full ‘tripledemic.’”

There are recent signs that the flu is waning as well.

See here for some background. We have milder winters here, so because we can still do stuff outside we can have a smaller winter effect from COVID. But the bottom line is the same as it always has been for minimizing the spread of these viruses. Get your COVID boosters, especially the bivalent booster. Get your flu shot. Keep wearing your facemask in crowded indoor spaces, and avoid such spaces where possible. You have the power and the choice to minimize your risk.

Precinct analysis: Specifically, my precincts

I’m still waiting for the full landscape canvass data from Harris County – things are a bit up in the air right now because of the lawsuit filed by the local GOP, but I expect to get that data soon, and when I do I’ll do the usual set of analyses on it for you. In the meantime, I’ve been idly speculating about my own precincts in the Heights. I saw a lot of Mealer signs around, which is in part because she lives in the neighborhood, but it got me wondering if there was a significant crossover vote for her here. I never saw a yard that had both a Beto sign and a Mealer sign in it, but maybe those who voted that way wanted to keep it on the down low. The only way to know is to look at the data.

So I went to the canvass reports that are available now on the HarrisVotes website. I specifically wanted to see what the vote for Beto looked like versus what the Lina Hidalgo vote looked like in the two precincts around where I live and where I spend most of my time. For comparison, I did the same for 2018, to see how much Beto/Emmett crossover there was. It’s a limited look – I’ll be able to learn much more when I have the full landscape report – but all I’m looking for here is quick and dirty. That will do for now.

Here are the numbers. I added the vote totals for the two precincts. The percentages include the third party (and for 2022 County Judge, write in) candidates, so they don’t sum to 100. Note that precincts were redrawn last year, and the net effect is that there are more voters in them in 2022 than in 2018.


Year  Candidate   Vote    Pct
=============================
2018       Beto  1,819  72.0%
2018       Cruz    674  26.7%

2018    Hidalgo  1,205  49.2%
2018     Emmett  1,169  47.8%

2022       Beto  2,546  70.2%
2022     Abbott  1,019  28.1%

2022    Hidalgo  2,279  63.6%
2022     Mealer  1,302  36.3%

So yes, there were Beto/Mealer voters in my neighborhood. That’s not surprising, given that Beto got 54% of the vote and 595K votes total, while Hidalgo got under 51% and 553K votes. As I said, I won’t know if our neighborhood was substantially different than others in the improvement that Mealer had over Abbott until I get the full picture. She did fall well short of Ed Emmett in 2018, getting a bit more than half as many crossovers as he did then. Again, not a big surprise given Beto’s 58% versus Hidalgo’s 49% four years ago. Indeed, my neighborhood was a pretty good proxy for the count as a whole in the County Judge’s race in 2018, but it was significantly more Democratic in that race this year. Make of all that what you will.

From a turnout perspective, in 2018 2,527 of 3,431 registered voters came out, for 73.7% of the total. In 2022, it was 3,641 out of 5,298, or 68.7% turnout. The county as a whole declined from 52.86% to 43.54%, so again not a surprise. If anything, the decline was less steep here than elsewhere. But a decline it was.

Anyway, that’s what there is for this comparison. I will of course look at this in more depth once I have the data I need.

Candidate who lost by 15 points files election contest

Utterly ridiculous, and will hopefully be treated that way.

Rep. Jon Rosenthal

A losing Republican candidate for the Texas House of Representatives is challenging his defeat and asking the Legislature to void the results of the election.

Republican Mike May this week filed what’s known as an election contest with the Texas secretary of state’s office, citing reports of scattered paper ballot shortages at “numerous” polling places on Election Day. May lost to incumbent Democrat Jon Rosenthal by more than 6,000 votes in his bid to represent House District 135 in the Houston area.

The secretary of state’s office on Tuesday delivered May’s petition to House Speaker Dade Phelan, who can refer the contest to a committee for investigation and appoint another member of the House as a “master” to oversee discovery and evidence related to the contested election. If they side with May and void the results, another election would be required to decide the district’s representative. The House can also toss the contest by declaring it “frivolous.”

Election Day issues once again pushed Harris County’s election officials back under scrutiny, including from the state’s Republican leadership. Voting in Harris County was extended by court order for an extra hour after about a dozen polling places were delayed in opening. The county’s elections administrator Clifford Tatum has also acknowledged issues with insufficient paper ballots at some polling places, though he said election staff was dispatched to deliver additional ballots.

The fumbles prompted a lawsuit by the Harris County GOP, which alleged voters were disenfranchised by the paper shortages. The Harris County district attorney has since launched an investigation into allegations of “irregularities.” The Texas Election Code includes criminal penalties for various violations, including illegal voting, the unsolicited distribution of mail-in ballot applications by local election officials and the failure to distribute election supplies.

In his petition, May argued the results of the election were not the “true outcome” because election officials “prevented eligible voters from voting.” May did not immediately return a request for comment.

On Friday, Rosenthal’s camp framed May’s election contest as part of a national trend to “deny the outcome of an election when you lose.”

“This race demonstrated one of the largest percentage point differences in Harris County, it wasn’t even close,” Rosenthal’s campaign manager, Bailey Stober, said in a statement. “The opposition presented himself and his positions and was rejected by voters overwhelmingly. That is how democracy works.”

The statement came soon after Harris County Attorney Christian D. Menefee criticized the contest as an effort to “call into question the 2022 election in Harris County and lay the groundwork to force a redo.”

It’s unclear how Phelan will handle the contest. His office declined to comment Friday. But Menefee said he was hopeful that Phelan would throw out the challenge.

“And I trust that he will ensure a fair process before impartial legislators, without interference from the state leaders and other elected officials who have a history of making baseless claims against Harris County elections,” Menefee said.

The House took on a similar exercise in 2011 following a challenge by Travis County Republican Dan Neil, who, after a recount, lost to state Rep. Donna Howard, D-Austin, by 12 votes. The House eventually upheld Howard’s win. She remains in the Texas Legislature.

Up till then, the Legislature had seen 113 election contests since 1846, according to the Texas Legislative Council, an in-house legal and research arm of the Texas Legislature. The losing party, however, had not managed to turn the outcome of the election at least in the last 30 years. In the one case in which the House ordered a new election in 1981, the winner of the initial contest was again elected.

There was also an election contest following the 2004 win by Rep. Hubert Vo, then a challenger, over then-Rep. Talmadge Heflin. The contest examined a number of votes that Heflin claimed were illegal, including at least one vote cast by a non-citizen (a Norwegian national who stated that he voted straight ticket Republican), upheld most of them, and in the end Vo still won. In both cases, the number of votes separating the winner and the loser was miniscule. There’s no planet on which this challenge even remotely resembles those two.

The Chron adds some context.

Larry Veselka, a Houston lawyer who represented Democrat Hubert Vo when Vo’s 2004 election to the Texas House was challenged by his Republican opponent, said the legal standard for voiding an election result and ordering up a redo typically requires “clear and convincing” evidence that would be near-impossible for May to obtain.

“It’s too speculative,” said Veselka, who previously served as chair of the Harris County Democratic Party in the 1980s. “I mean, how do you say who walked away at this hour or at this one location where they were short of ballots? … Have they gone out and found people that can credibly swear, I left and didn’t vote somewhere else?”

May’s election challenge sparked outrage among Houston Democrats, including Rosenthal, who called it “more a political stunt than any type of serious complaint or concern.”

Harris County Democratic Party Chair Odus Evbagharu, who previously served as Rosenthal’s chief of staff, said the petition “reeks of Republican desperation.”

“The Republican candidate is attempting to alter a certified election with this baseless charge,” Evbagharu said. “Clearly, they’re running out of options in the election-attack playbook.”

Mark McCaig, a Houston attorney and conservative activist, also condemned the election contest in a tweet.

“There were HUGE problems with the election in Harris Co, but frivolous election contests like this are a gift to Dems (which is why Rosenthal is eating it up),” McCaig tweeted. “The focus needs to be on the very real problems that occurred.”

Jason Vaughn, former president of Houston Young Republicans, added: “I’m highly involved in Republican politics in Harris and didn’t even know this guy existed. The district was literally drawn to be a Democrat district.”

To put a few numbers on this, if you threw out every vote cast in the HD135 race on Election Day, Rosenthal still wins by 4,161 votes. Mike May collected 6,055 votes on Election Day. If you doubled that, if you somehow accept that the problems at a handful of voting locations prevented as many people who voted for him on all of Election Day from voting for him at all, without anyone who might have not voted selecting Rosenthal instead, he would still lose by 131 votes. This doesn’t come close to passing the sniff test. The only rational response by Speaker Phelan is to declare it frivolous. We’ll see. A statement from Rep. Rosenthal is here, and from County Attorney Menefee is here.

Local AstroWorld task force gives its report

Sounds mostly okay to me, but one person who knows a lot more about this stuff than I do is not impressed.

A task force formed after the deadly Astroworld concert unveiled a clearer agreement Monday between Houston, Harris County, NRG Park and those seeking permits for major events that local leaders say will improve safety — but one expert said falls far short of protecting people or living up to the promises of reform after 10 people perished last November.

The interlocal agreement between the city and county revises the current major event plan, last amended in 2018. Harris County Commissioner Adrian Garcia, a member of the task force, called it a “great step in a collaborative fashion to look at things in our front windshield,” that included more specifics on the authority to reject permits, review safety plans and standardized the permit applications filed to the city and county.

Mayor Sylvester Turner said he was satisfied the new agreement helps clarify responsibilities and offers a clear set of rules.

“They just were not aligned as they needed to be,” Turner said of protocols in place during the Astroworld disaster.

A veteran mass event expert, however, said his review of the new agreement provided little hope for improvement.

“They simply have taken 12 months to come up with a two-and-a-half page agreement … that can still be interpreted different ways,” said Paul Wertheimer, founder of Los Angeles-based Crowd Management Strategies, and a 40-year veteran of safety planning and protocols for large events.

Wertheimer called the new agreement a “clumsy approach to address the critical failures of Astroworld.”

[…]

The new agreement, which for now only covers NRG Park as a pilot of a more universal agreement, applies to any event with an expected attendance of 6,000 or more. The new agreement also requires a unified command center so law enforcement, medical staff and firefighters are operating in the same location or on the same radio channels on-site at the event.

“Thank goodness we all got together,” Police Chief Troy Finner said, noting the new agreement allows him to reject any security plan.

Previously, details for major events did not specify who exactly had the authority to reject plans for not following protocols, leaving decisions up to various offices with the city and county.

The existing agreement “painted in broad strokes,” said Steven Adelman, vice president of the industry group Event Safety Alliance, which helped design local standards for major events.

“What we have done, frankly, is paint with much finer strokes,” Adelman said.

[…]

Communication was one of many issues raised after the Astroworld disaster. Lack of a unified command structure, confusion about who bore responsibility for turning off the music as Scott played and design details of the fencing that corralled the crowd on three sides have been blamed for creating confusion as people were crushed by the forward-pressing mob of music fans.

None of those issues are satisfactorily addressed by the new agreement, Wertheimer said. The new agreement leaves open standards for crowd size, and does not require approval of a crowd management plan — different from an emergency plan — which details established exits and what safeguards are in place to avoid a crowd surge or rush that can trample or asphyxiate people.

“There appears to be a lack of knowledge about crowd management,” Wertheimer said, adding that many locations have far more detailed plans than Houston.

In Chicago, for example, any event with an expected size of 10,000 or more must receive approval from the city’s parks board, after review by several city departments.

While the new agreement more explicitly states the authority of police and fire to control the site and stop the show if needed, Wertheimer said making that more clear without actual tangible changes in the rules is insufficient. Nor should any of the ongoing lawsuits related to the event stop public officials from strengthening rules or changing regulations.

See here for the background. Note that this is not the same as the state task force, whose recommendations were “ridiculed” according to Wertheimer. Like I said, I don’t know enough to really evaluate this, and I was not able to find a copy of the report so all I know is what’s in this story. I would love to hear a 15-20 minute interview with Paul Wertheimer and Steven Adelman, to hash out what is good, bad, deficient, unnecessary, innovative, and whatever else about this report. CityCast Houston, please make this happen.

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

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


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

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

On to 2018:


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

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

What to expect when you’re expecting a (larger) Democratic majority

I have three things to say about this.

Despite narrowly winning reelection against bruising campaigns by well-funded challengers, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court has made clear it intends to continue its progressive remake of Harris County.

Though neither County Judge Lina Hidalgo, Precinct 2 Commissioner Adrian Garcia or Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis invoked the word “mandate,” their public promises of four more years of what they have been doing leaves little doubt about their intentions.

Adding a fourth Democrat in Precinct 4, where former county court at law judge Lesley Briones ousted incumbent Commissioner Jack Cagle will only strengthen that resolve.

It also will prevent the lone Republican remaining on court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey from pulling off a quorum break as he did this year with Cagle to prevent the Democratic majority from passing its preferred property tax rate.

“Democrats will likely lean into a more progressive agenda now that they have uniform control of the court,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “They as much as campaigned on this promise.”

The question, Rottinghaus said, is how far Democrats should go in a progressive direction.

“Voters didn’t provide an overwhelming mandate for a major left shift and probably signaled some modest opposition to or, at least, different emphasis on priorities from the prior four years,” Rottinghaus said.

I’m old enough to remember the 2006 election, you know, the one where Rick Perry was elected with 39% of the vote. There was some Discourse at the time about how Perry should be humbled by his weak showing and should mend his ways and just somehow not be so Rick Perry-like. He did none of those things, was easily re-elected again in 2010, was briefly a Presidential candidate in 2012, and eventually became a Cabinet member. Mandates are what you make of them.

With the new stronger majority on the court, Harris County Republican Party Chair Cindy Siegel said she is concerned Democrats will be punitive toward those who have challenged them, pointing to Hidalgo’s victory speech delivered the day after the election.

In those remarks, Hidalgo spoke about her critics who have accused Democrats on the court of defunding police, including what she called “unscrupulous politicians of both parties.” She called out Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg, a Democrat, without naming her directly.

“That was sort of what was implied with her statement addressed to those people who didn’t support her. So, does that mean she’s not going to be supportive of the constables and the DA’s office?” Siegel said. “Because it’s one thing saying that you’re for funding and you want to make crime go down, but now it’s time to deliver. That’s what she told people.”

Oh, Cindy. Have you seen what Republicans are promising to do in Congress now that they have a slim majority? That’s what being punitive looks like. There are some significant policy differences between Judge Hidalgo and Commissioners Court on the one hand and Kim Ogg and the Constables on the other. Judge Hidalgo has – I’m gonna say it – a mandate to use her office to implement the policies she and the Court campaigned on and think are best. If Ogg and the Constables, who are all up for election in 2024, disagree about that, they can make a campaign issue out of it and hope to get their own mandate at that time. If Hidalgo and the Court really do overstep, that can be ammunition in their fight.

Still, Rottinghaus said, the opposition Democrats faced during the election cycle reflected the difficulty they had messaging on crime issues.

“Governing a massive and ideologically diverse county like Harris means compromising,” he said. “So, despite a solid majority, the close election shows Democrats on the Court need to encourage Republicans to come back to the table.”

This is just your periodic reminder that Harris County Commissioners Court operated with a Republican majority for at least 40 years – I’m only able to verify the Court’s makeup via election results back to about 1974 – before Dems took it in 2019. We operated under Republican laws, rules, norms, and assumptions for a long, long time. Only so much of that can be changed to reflect the current political reality in four years’ time, especially when a Republican minority was still able to wield a budget veto. The fact is that this now-larger Democratic majority – which even with the benefit of redistricting was still hard won – will continue to modify, update, and undo some of the things that we had long done under Republican rule. Everyone needs to wrap their heads around that.

SCOTx allows provisional votes to be counted

Good.

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A few words from Judge Hidalgo

Plus a few words that she could have said but didn’t, which I will fill in.

Judge Lina Hidalgo

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who narrowly won re-election last week over a strong push from GOP candidates and donors, outlined plans for her next four years in office, including continuing anti-crime efforts and doubling down on early childhood education.

“In some ways, it’s a continuation of the past four years — the work we’ve done to tackle violent crime, for example. We’ve already been able to bring down that violent crime rate by at least 10 percent. These are August numbers. We need to do more. We’re going to continue doing that,” Hidalgo said in a press briefing held Thursday.

Hidalgo took a jab at the two Republicans on commissioners court, Precinct 3 Commissioner Tom Ramsey and Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, who broke quorum for more than six weeks to stop Democrats from passing their proposed property tax rate. While the Democrats were proposing a tax rate decrease, Ramsey and Cagle argued for a slightly lower rate on the grounds that residents needed more tax relief.

Because the court was not able to reach a state-required quorum of four members present to set the tax rate by the end of October, the county defaulted to what is known as the no-new revenue rate, the levy that would generate the same revenue as last year. The county is projected to take in an additional $45 million from new properties on the tax roll.

Facing a lower tax rate, the court voted to approve a lower budget, cutting nearly $100 million that was to be allocated to law enforcement, including raises for sheriff deputies.

“I’m proud of the record investments we’ve made in public safety, even despite the fact that two colleagues boycotted our budget process and forced us to cut some expenses we’d planned,” Hidalgo said. “Even with that, we’ve been able to see results and we’re working really hard, including with the recent bond that passed, to try to strengthen our criminal justice system.”

County government will keep tackling issues that traditionally have not been on the agenda, she said.

That’s what she said. She didn’t say anything about Constable/JP redistricting, either as a political goal or a policy goal. She didn’t say anything about taking all of those $100 million in forced budget cuts from Tom Ramsey’s precinct, which I would totally tell her to at least publicly muse about if I were advising her. She didn’t say anything about whiny crybaby sore losers pursuing their completely bogus “investigation” of the Elections office. She’s a responsible elected official, and I’m a yahoo on the Internet, so that probably has something to do with it. But these are things that could be said, and maybe will be said in a more measured and nuanced way at some point in the coming weeks. We’ll see. Oh, and be sure also to see the hilariously thin-skinned response she drew for her victory celebration from a local furniture salesman and gambling aficionado. Someone needs a nap, I’d say.

UPDATE: Said furniture salesman gets roundly panned by Chron readers.

Paxton sues to prevent some provisional votes from being counted

On brand. Always, always on brand.

Best mugshot ever

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Precinct analysis: Early voting versus Election Day

In his pre-election analyses of the early vote, Republican consultant Derek Ryan (whose numbers I have used in the past) suggested that there was still a significant number of regular Republican voters who had not voted yet, which could make Election Day redder than early voting was. I thought I’d take a look at the data to see how accurate that was. Short answer: Pretty accurate.


Candidate   Early%  E-Day%  Total%  Ratio
=========================================
Abbott     53.75%   57.05%  54.80%   1.06
Beto       45.14%   40.98%  43.81%   0.91
Others      1.11%    1.97%   1.39%   1.77

Note that “Early” here includes mail ballots, as the Secretary of State website combines mail ballots with early in person ballots to give that number. “Ratio” is just the Election Day percentage divided by the Early percentage, which you can interpret to mean that Abbott did about six percent better on Election Day while Beto did about nine percent worse. The Others include the Libertarian and Green candidates plus two write-ins. I am greatly amused by the fact that their voters are the real traditionalists for voting on Tuesday.

If you’ve followed the numbers from Harris County, you know that Democrats overall did at least as well on Election Day as they had done in early voting. I assumed there was a range of outcomes here, so I sorted the data by Abbott’s Ratio, to see where he did best and worst – relatively speaking – on Election Day. Here are a few counties of interest for each. First, where he improved on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Travis Early          24.07%   74.83%   1.10%
Travis E-Day          30.52%   66.96%   2.52%

Bastrop Early         53.93%   44.58%   1.50%
Bastrop E-Day         64.15%   33.53%   2.32%

Williamson Early      47.73%   50.94%   1.33%
Williamson E-Day      54.19%   43.20%   2.62%

Hays Early            42.52%   56.01%   1.46%
Hays E-Day            46.87%   50.30%   2.84%

Bowie Early           73.12%   25.96%   0.92%
Bowie E-Day           80.32%   18.17%   1.52%

Dallas Early          34.85%   64.18%   0.97%
Dallas E-Day          38.08%   60.02%   1.90%

There are numerous small counties in there that I haven’t listed, I’m just highlighting the ones of interest. Travis County was in fact the top Ratio value for Greg Abbott – he did 29% better on Election Day than he did in early voting. This is where I point out that “doing better (or worse) on Election Day” is not the same as doing well (or poorly). That said, Abbott did well enough on Election Day in Williamson County to nudge past Beto’s vote total for that county. Now here are a few where Abbott dropped off on Election Day:


County                Abbott     Beto  Others
=============================================
Fort Bend Early       47.58%   51.07%   1.35%
Fort Bend E-Day       44.72%   52.94%   2.33%

Lubbock Early         70.30%   28.64%   1.06%
Lubbock E-Day         67.54%   30.49%   1.97%

Harris Early          45.06%   53.79%   1.15%
Harris E-Day          43.31%   54.45%   2.24%

Gregg Early           73.76%   25.52%   0.72%
Gregg E-Day           71.09%   27.35%   1.56%

Jefferson Early       56.56%   42.33%   1.10%
Jefferson E-Day       54.61%   43.38%   2.01%

It’s interesting to me to see Central Texas counties filling up that first table, while the Houston area is more present in the second one. I could have included Waller, Wharton, and Chambers in the latter as well. Whether that’s a fluke or a tendency, I couldn’t tell you. But it’s finding weird things like this that makes doing this kind of exercise so much fun.

Does any of this matter on a more macro level? Again, I don’t know. Honestly, I don’t think it matters that much, in the sense that the votes all count the same and from the perspective of a campaign’s win number it doesn’t make a difference. It’s certainly nice to have a bunch of votes banked before Election Day – if nothing else, it mitigates some risk from bad weather and technical difficulties at voting locations. But ultimately, either your voters show up in the numbers you need or they don’t. I think this data is interesting, and it may suggest some strategies for how better to deploy campaign resources. Beyond that, it’s what you make of it.

DaSean Jones wins after provisional and cured mail ballots are counted

I’m sure someone is going to throw a fit over this.

Judge DaSean Jones

The Harris County felony judge race for the 180th criminal state district court flipped Friday night in favor of incumbent DaSean Jones after new mail and provisional ballots were counted.

Jones, who assumed office in 2019, has taken a 449-vote lead over Republican Tami Pierce. Pierce led by more than 1,200 votes the morning following the election. That number dwindled to 165 votes on Nov. 10.

Nearly 5,300 new ballots were counted in the latest update by Harris County Elections — including a little under 1,000 mail, nearly 1,800 early provisional and about 2,500 E-Day provisional.

[…]

According to Harris County Elections, the results posted Friday are the “final unofficial posting” before Tuesday when Harris County Commissioners Court is scheduled to canvass the results. The Elections office is still working on the reconciliation form.

See here, when I published the previous count, which was as of November 10 at 2:42 PM. Those were the last results before provisional votes were counted – as we know, those always take a few days for review. With the new restrictions on mail ballots, the same law that added those restrictions also allows for mail ballots that have a defect in them, such as lacking the correct ID number (drivers license number or last four digits of the SSN, depending on which you used to register with), to be corrected up to six days after the election, as noted by the Secretary of State. I presume that means up through Monday the 14th, I haven’t checked to see what the exact specification in the law is.

Be that as it may, here’s the November 10 report, which as noted had no provisional ballots and still some uncounted mail ballots. At that time, a total of 60,302 mail ballots had been counted, and as we know they favored Democrats countywide. Beto was leading in mail ballots in that report 62.25% to 36.76% over Greg Abbott, a net of 15,151 votes, while Lina Hidalgo had a 60.26% to 39.65% (11,960 votes) advantage. DaSean Jones was up 31,382 (56.12%) to 24,541 (43.88%) as of the 10th.

In the report from the 18th, which included the final mail totals as well as the provisionals, Jones gained 259 net votes, going to a 31,914 to 24,814 lead. Counted provisional votes were sorted into those from Early Voting and those from Election Day. His opponent Tami Pierce netted five votes in the former, winning them 850 to 845, but Jones added another 360 to his margin by taking Election Day provisional votes 1,390 to 1,030.

Overall, the EV provisional votes had a slight Democratic lean – looking just at the judicial races, the Democratic share of the EV provisionals was generally a fraction of a point to a point higher than the overall early vote percent. Jones was one of three Democratic judicial candidates to not carry the EV provisionals – Genmayel Haynes, one of the four remaining Democrats who lost, and Tami Craft, who had the closest margin of victory among the Dems who won before Jones’ ascent, were the other two. Dems won the Election Day provisional vote by a much more solid margin, in the 57-60% range in the judicial races I looked at. That right there suggests to me that the Republican claims about voting location problems affecting them disproportionately are bogus.

For what it’s worth, Beto now has 54.03% of the vote in Harris County; my previous post with the 2022 update on how statewide results compared to Harris County is now out of date, which is a lesson I’ll learn for next time. Lina Hidalgo increased her lead to 1.67 percentage points, now 0.09 points bigger than her percentage margin from 2018 though her raw vote margin of 18,183 is still slightly less. The Democrat among the four who lost who came closest to winning is now Porsha Brown, who now trails Leslie Johnson 50.01% to 49.99%, a 267 vote margin. Final turnout is 1,107,390, or about 43.75% of registered voters.

A brief look at the judicial races

From a few days ago:

The advertisements rolled out with weeks to go until the November election. In one TV spot, the sister of Martha Medina urged Harris County voters in Spanish and another in English to honor her sister, killed in 2021 during a purse snatching, by electing new tough-on-crime judges.

Stop Houston Murders PAC made similar calls to action in TV ads and online, pleading with the public to rid the felony courts of Democratic judges. The action committee blamed Judge Hilary Unger for facilitating Medina’s death when she set bail for her accused assailant on an earlier capital murder charge. The group blasted other felony judges for similar bail decisions, implying that pretrial releases had led to a rise in violent crime.

Hours before the polls closed on Election Day, the Houston Police Officers Union joined the effort, tweeting a photo of the criminal courthouse stating there would be “zero sympathy” for the judges voted out of office.

By Wednesday morning, the damage to Democrats on the felony bench was contained. Seven incumbents, including Unger, narrowly survived the barrage of rhetoric — winning their races and seemingly validating their progressive approach to bail and punishment decisions.

[…]

Judge Josh Hill, an incumbent Democrat, addressed his win Thursday, saying he had feared voters would take the conservative messaging to heart. For months, he had been unable to response to misinformation in attack ads and news reports because judicial rules prohibit judges from speaking about pending cases.

But the ads didn’t sway enough voters to topple him or remove most of his colleagues.

“If it did anything — it was minimally effective at best,” Hill said.

The crime-focused PAC, with endorsements from loved ones of Harris County crime victims, began pouring more than $2 million into local races months before the November election. The committee blamed the wave of Democratic judges elected in 2018 and thereafter for what they described as a crime crisis in the region.

The PAC said it supported reducing the backlog of felony cases by forcing trials to take place within a year of arrest and prohibiting the release of defendants accused of crimes related to firearms.

I know this PAC spent a lot of money on this – you should definitely read that linked story about who the sources of the money were, and then go re-read that Endorsement Regrets editorial; good times, good times – but it was mostly invisible to me. I think maybe I saw one TV ad for them, there was one billboard on I-45 South just north of the I-10 exit, which was high up and hard to read, and a few yard signs around. No online ads that I can recall, which is usually where I get the most exposure. I’m sure it was different for others, but the joy I get imagining them setting all that money on fire is real.

Nothing new in this article about the numbers, which I wrote about on Monday. On Thursday, I got a mention in the Chron’s latest lament about judicial elections.

The lesson is clear: Texans’ compulsion to vote straight-ticket, even if we have to do so manually these days after lawmakers took away the quick option, is strong enough to ensure that the solidly Democratic counties remained blue. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Beto O’Rourke may have lost to Republican Gov. Greg Abbott — he won Harris County by half the margin he did when he ran for U.S. Senate in 2018 — but his coattails were just long enough to drag down-ballot candidates across the finish line.

And yet the narrow margins for Democrats in Harris County suggest that the money funneled by Republicans targeting certain candidates as soft on crime was effective and resonated with voters concerns about public safety. These ads singled out many felony judicial candidates for making bail decisions in cases where defendants were freed on bond and then were re-arrested on new violent charges — including, in some cases, murder.

As local politics blogger Charles Kuffner noted in a recent post, Democratic judicial candidates in Harris County typically outperform the statewide candidates. This year’s election broke with that trend: Only eight of the 61 Democrats running for criminal and civil district and county courts won more than 51 percent of the vote. The gap between the top of the ticket — O’Rourke with 54 percent — and the lowest vote-getter among Democratic judicial candidates — misdemeanor court candidate Je’Rell Rogers with 49.3 percent — was the largest since 2010.

“That shows you that there was a lot of defection,” Robert Stein, a political science professor at Rice University, told the editorial board. “With judicial candidates, I think people made rational choices. They thought Democrats were really bad, not bad enough to replace, but not good enough to give them the kind of margins they got in 2016, 2018 and again in 2020.”

There were, however, some down-ballot results that defied conventional wisdom. While there are still some provisional ballots to be counted in Harris County, as of Wednesday, District Court Judge DaSean Jones, a Democrat, trailed his Republican opponent, Tami Pierce, by 165 votes. In another district court race, Harris County public defender Gemayel Haynes, a Democrat, trailed Republican candidate Kristin Guiney by about 4,300 votes. In the misdemeanor courts, Democratic candidates Rogers and Porscha Brown, as well as incumbent Judge Ronnisha Bowman, also lost their election bids.

There may be a less sophisticated explanation for some results: Voters pay so little attention to down-ballot races that some pick their candidates based on nothing more than cosmetic biases. All five of these Democratic judicial candidates who lost are Black with non-traditional first names. That, combined with a tougher-than-usual political climate for Democrats, is a recipe for outliers.

First, thanks for reading. I recommend you also read the many posts I have about why non-partisan judicial elections aren’t such a great idea, at least not for the problem that the editorial board and various folks like former Justice Wallace Jefferson say they want to fix. You might also listen to Thursday’s What Next podcast, in which we find out that candidates in non-partisan judicial races don’t feel any compunction to be non-partisan themselves, and the big money interests that back candidates of a political party are also spending a bunch of money backing their preferred “non-partisan” judicial candidates. It’s like some local politics blogger once said, you can’t take the politics out of an inherently political process.

As for what Prof. Stein says, I mean I guess, to some extent. If Dems were wiped out in the judicial races then sure. But we still won 56 out of 61, which last I looked was a pretty good percentage. Also, the Chron quoted my post incorrectly – I said only 8 of the 61 got more than the 51.75% that the average statewide candidate got. By my count 38 of the 61 exceeded 51%, with there being two very near misses at 50.99% and 50.96%. My point is that the effect, for which I have said that the anti-Democratic ads likely was a factor, wasn’t very big – a few thousand votes overall. There may have been other factors, as the Chron points out. The range between the top-scoring Democratic judicial candidate and the low-scoring one was tight, more so than in other years. I mentioned the ad spending because it would have been ignorant and disingenuous not to mention it. We’ll never really know how much of an effect it had. We just can’t say it had no effect.

Finally, a bit of accountability for myself: I had also suggested that in past years weak Democratic statewide candidates lost fairly significant vote totals to third party candidates, which dragged down their percentages and made the local and judicial candidates, who were mostly in two-person races, look better by comparison. That’s true for some years, but to my surprise when I looked this year it was not the case, at least in percentage terms, when compared to 2018. The effect isn’t uniform and I’ll want to take a closer look, but I’m going to discount that now as a factor. Not quite enough Democratic turnout is the better suspect.

Commissioner-elect Briones

Good story.

Lesley Briones

Yes, Lesley Briones secured a victory that handed Democrats a stall-proof majority on Harris County Commissioners Court.

And yes, she upset Republican Commissioner Jack Cagle in a precinct where he has won reelection every cycle since 2011, beating the incumbent by about 3 points when polling in the week before the election marked Cagle with a firm lead in the race.

It’s also true that Briones’ election to office marks the first instance in its 145-year history that two women have served on Harris County Commissioners Court at the same time. It should also be noted that her presence adds a third representative with Latin American heritage to the five-member body in a county where Latinos make up the largest racial demographic group and have been growing every year since 2010.

But Briones maintains that the circumstances and implications surrounding her victory will not color her decisions as she prepares to assume her role as Harris County’s newly elected Precinct 4 Commissioner. A former Harris County Civil Court Judge who graduated from Harvard and went to law school at Yale, told Chron that she plans to approach her role as commissioner “just the way I did in court.”

“In my court, I wear a black robe, not a blue robe, not a red robe or any other color. And I listen to both sides of a case, or all sides if there are multiple parties. And I listened to the evidence and made my rulings in the fairest way possible,” Briones said.

“I am a proud lifelong Democrat, but it’s beyond partisanship,” said Briones. “It’s about being Americans, being Houstonians, being Texans. It’s about fixing potholes, improving parks, maintaining ditches. It’s about making sure we have the number of law enforcement officers we have,” she added.

Looking back at her and Democratic Judge Lina Hidalgo’s re-election victories, Briones said that “when people box themselves into corners, if it’s hyperpartisanship or polarization or however you want to frame it, it wasn’t serving people, and things weren’t getting done.”

First, that was the same poll that had claimed Judge Hidalgo was losing in her race; it underestimated her support by six points. To be fair, that poll showed a lot of undecided voters and noted that they came primarily from demographics that would favor Democrats. I’m just noting this all for the record, so we can examine the polls of 2024 more carefully.

I like the subtlety with which Commissioner-elect Briones calls out her vanquished opponent for his quorum busting – there’s more later in the story – which she had taken the opportunity to attack as it was happening in the latter stages of the campaign. I have no idea if this had an effect on the outcome – we don’t have any data on that – but as the victor one gets to write the narrative. Seems like a pretty good way to start telling the story of her tenure.

Finally, given that we will be talking a lot about Latino representation on Houston City Council in the coming year, not to mention the promised lawsuit to get rid of the At Large Council seats, it’s worthwhile to compare Harris County to Houston and note the disparity in their governing bodies. I will note that County Commissioner races are a lot more expensive than At Large City Council races, and that Briones won in a district that was not specifically drawn to elect a Latino. She had to defeat a diverse slate of opponents in her primary to get onto the November ballot. To be sure, she’s running in a partisan race, which can be (but isn’t necessarily) a boost to one’s fundraising prospects. She’s also running in an even-numbered year, which as we’ve discussed before in the City Council context means much higher turnout and thus a more diverse electorate than our odd-year municipal elections. If we had city elections in even-numbered years, we would almost certainly have a different-looking City Council. There are good reasons to not want to have those elections in even years, I’m just saying it’s another option, and something to keep in mind as we have this longer conversation in 2023. Campos has more.

If Greg Abbott demands an investigation, Greg Abbott will get an investigation

This is all still so dumb.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg is launching an investigation into “alleged irregularities” during last week’s election after receiving a referral from the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Ogg sent a letter to Texas Department of Public Safety Director Steven McCraw asking for the Texas Rangers’ assistance on Monday, the same day Gov. Greg Abbott called for an investigation and the Harris County Republican Party filed a lawsuit accusing Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum and the county of numerous violations of the Texas Election Code.

The allegations include paper shortages at 23 polling locations, releasing early voting results before polls closed at 8 p.m., the improper disposition of damaged ballots and inadequate instructions on how poll workers were to manage instances in which the two-page ballots were not completely or adequately scanned into machines.

Under Harris County’s countywide voting system, residents had 782 locations to cast their ballots on Election Day. The paper shortages affected a small number of polling places.

The GOP lawsuit, however, claims “countless” voters were turned away due to the paper shortages and did not go to a second location to vote.

See here for the background. Ogg, who was not exactly an asset to Democrats in this election, has taken some heat for this. I get that and I’m not here to defend any of her recent actions, but I’m not exercised about this. There was going to be an investigation of some kind once Abbott threw his tantrum, and given that it can’t be Ken Paxton unless he’s invited in, it may as well be the local DA. Having the Texas Rangers assist makes sense in that it’s best to have outside help for an internal political matter. If this turns out to be much ado about nothing, as I believe it is, then let the Rangers take the blame from the Republicans for not finding anything. I am not going to waste my energy sweating about this at this time.

In the meantime:

Harris County Elections Administrator Cliff Tatum, speaking at length publicly for the first time since Election Day, pledged a complete assessment of voting issues Tuesday but said the county is in “dire need” of improvements to the way it conducts elections.

“A full assessment is in order,” Tatum told Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday. “We have started that assessment, but I’d like to remind you and the public we are still counting votes.”

He said his office still was working its way through about 2,100 provisional ballots cast after 7 p.m. last Tuesday. A state district judge ordered the county to keep the polls open until 8 p.m. because some voting locations failed to open on time. Those provisional ballots are being kept separate from the unofficial count, pending a court ruling on the validity of those votes.

The deadline for the county to canvass the vote is Nov. 22.

[…]

Tatum told Commissioners Court his staff is contacting each election judge to gather feedback and assess challenges they faced, including any technical difficulties and the response they received.

At least one polling place had a late opening and certain locations ran out of paper, Tatum confirmed.

Tatum took over the job in August, just two months before early voting in the November election began. So far, he noted the county is in “dire need” of some critically needed improvements, including a better communication system, more maintenance and operations personnel and a tracking system for monitoring requests from the election workers running polling locations.

Tatum said he has spoken with election judges who requested technical help and did not receive it.

“Because I can’t track that technician within the system that I have, I can’t tell you what happened,” Tatum said.

I dunno, maybe wait until all the work is done and see what happens before storming the barricades? And yes, especially now that they have full control over the budget, the Democratic majority on Commissioners Court needs to ensure this office has sufficient resources. We need to do better. Reform Austin has more.