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Harris County

Not everyone will be sending in their mail ballot

I get this.

Samina Mirza had read enough in the news about U.S. Postal Service delays that she decided there was no way she’d trust the mail to deliver her ballot to Harris County election officials on time.

The 70-year-old retired nonprofit staffer had originally planned to drop off her ballot at a location near her home in Katy, until Gov. Greg Abbott issued a proclamation limiting counties to just one drop-off site.

“I wasn’t going to drive 25 miles to downtown Houston to use the dropbox because the nearest one was taken away, so I said ‘OK that’s fine, I’ll take a chance and just vote in person,’” said Mirza, who voted for Democrat Joe Biden for president.

Mirza is one of about 32,000 voters in Harris County and almost 9,600 in Bexar County who had received a mail-in ballot but chose to instead vote in person as of Wednesday — and there’s still a week and a half left of early voting to go. That’s about 13 percent and 9 percent of all voters who received mail ballots in each county, respectively.

About 759,000 Harris County residents had voted early in person by Wednesday and about 115,000 had done so by mail. In Bexar County, about 326,000 had voted in person and about 70,000 by mail.

“Since there are more people voting by mail in general, it does make sense that some people might change their mind for whatever reason and decide to vote in person,” said Roxanne Werner, Harris County spokeswoman. “Some people may have applied months ago, and with news about USPS and general situations changing, they may have decided to vote in person.”

[…]

Some who switched to in-person voting, like Mirza, cited concerns about the reliability of the mail. Others said they felt attached to their habit of in-person voting. Others still felt more reassured about the safety of the polling places with the longer early voting period, and after observing early voting procedures adapted for the pandemic.

The bottom line for all of the voters, though, was that in a high-stakes election that’s drawing record numbers of Texans to the polls, they didn’t want to take a chance that their vote would not count.

Still, it’s putting an extra burden on poll workers who are already stretched thin handling high turnout and trying to manage wait times that increase potential exposure to the virus.

Well, yes. That was one of the reasons why election administrators were encouraging people to vote by mail in the first place. Not that any of our fake fraud-obsessed Republican leaders cared. Had Harris and other counties been allowed to have more than one mail ballot dropoff location, that would have also worked. But as someone once said, it is what it is. At least these folks will still be voting – as we have observed, the harder the Republicans have made it to vote, the more determined everyone seems to be. Shouldn’t have to be this way, and someday we will make it better, but for now this is where we are.

If you received a mail ballot – not just an application, but an actual mail ballot – you must bring it with you and turn it in if you decide to vote in person. Your vote will be provisional otherwise. No big deal, people do this, just bring it with you. Or fill it out and mail it in (quickly!) or drop it off. Just make sure you vote.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Thirteen: In the home stretch

Twitter time:

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Bill Kelly: Voting Matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Having a Clerk who values democracy matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wonder why.

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

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

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

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

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Twelve: Second Saturday

Where we are.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

Judge sends Paxton case back to Collin County

Pending appeal, of course.

Best mugshot ever

A Harris County judge on Friday moved Attorney General Ken Paxton’s criminal case to Collin County, handing Paxton a major win by placing the case in his hometown, where legal experts say he’s more likely to face a sympathetic judge or jury.

Judge Jason Luong ruled that he did not have the authority to move the case, deferring to an earlier order moving the case to Collin County.

Special prosecutors Brian Wice and Kent Schaffer said Friday that they plan to appeal. Paxton’s attorneys could not immediately be reached.

The decision adds yet another layer of complication — and likely more delays — to a case that has dragged on for more than five years over numerous issues unrelated to the substance of the accusations against Paxton.

I’m going to jump in here to remind everyone that Judge Robert Johnson had ordered the case back to Collin County in June, agreeing with Paxton’s defense team that the judge who had sent the case to Harris County in the first place did not have the authority to do so. Johnson then recused himself from the case, because the AG’s office is representing the criminal district court judges in the felony bail reform lawsuit, though it is not clear that he had to do so, since Paxton is not directly involved in that case and the judges who are defendants are being sued in their official capacity, not as plain old citizens. The First Court of Appeals set that order aside in July (the technical legal term is “abated”), on the grounds that the new judge, Jason Luong, needed to have an opportunity to review Judge Johnson’s order and either agree with it or vacate it. (Team Paxton later tried to get Judge Luong removed, but that motion was denied and subsequently mocked.)

In his ruling Friday, Luong added that even if a higher court rules that he does in fact have authority, he agrees with Paxton’s lawyers that the judge who allowed the case to move to Harris in the first place lacked authority as well, meaning the case would remain in Collin County.

As it was explained to me, the same mandamus that had been filed with the First Court of Appeals to challenge Judge Johnson’s ruling will now be taken up for Judge Luong’s ruling. I should note that the First Court’s abatement was supposed to be for 45 days, but as with everything related to this Paxton case, things took longer than that. Lord only knows when the next thing will happen. In the meantime, of course, there is now the Nate Paul shitshow, and if that does not have an effect on this case somehow at some point, I will be puzzled and very, very disappointed – like, Susan Collins clucking her tongue at Donald Trump-level disappointed. What the world needed now, when not much else is happening, is some more Ken Paxton news, am I right? The Trib has more.

Overview of Harris County Sheriff’s race

The explanation for why Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is a big favorite to be re-elected is quite simple, really.

County veterans wondered if former Houston police officer-turned politician Ed Gonzalez would be up to the job of sheriff in 2016 after he came out on top of a contested Democratic primary and then defeated veteran lawman Ron Hickman.

Four years later, Gonzalez has emerged the heavily favored incumbent against Republican challenger Joe Danna. Experts say Gonzalez’s chances are buoyed by wide name recognition, his performance in office, a rapid Democratic shift in Harris County’s demographics, and a contingent of Latino voters energized by the recent election of other Hispanics to county offices, including Judge Lina Hidalgo and Commissioner Adrian Garcia.

“It’s going to be more complicated (for Danna) to win,” said Jeronimo Cortina, an associate professor of political science at the University of Houston.

[…]

He stumbled initially, after the sheriff’s office ran afoul of state standards in the county jail. Texas Commission on Jail Standards Executive Director Brandon Wood said the sheriff’s office received several notices of noncompliance regarding jail operations — including one for a failed annual inspection — early on. After a meeting with Gonzalez and county judge Lina Hidalgo in early last year, he said state jail regulators noticed a “marked improvement” in the department’s jail operations.

“They passed their most recent annual inspection and we have not issued a notice of non-compliance since,” he said.

Gonzalez argues that he reined in the department’s troubled budget, expanded critical intervention training, ended practices outsourcing inmates to far-flung jails in other counties, and led the department through Hurricane Harvey and a still-ongoing pandemic — at a time when police departments across the country have come under renewed scrutiny for how they treat civilians.

He gained national attention when — as a defendant in a lawsuit over the county’s bail practices — he came out as a vocal supporter for misdemeanor bail reform.

[…]

Texas Southern University Professor Michael Adams said Danna appears to be a “law-and-order” candidate more common in past elections, one who will likely face significant hurdles given the county’s blue tilt.

“In the midst of not having any scar tissue in this particular race, and what we’ve seen in Harris County going back to 2018, in terms of a blue wave, if you will, I don’t see much of a threat,” he said.

First and foremost, Harris County is Democratic. That may change over time, and we may encounter conditions where base Democratic turnout is likely to be depressed while Republican turnout is not, but in this election we can safely assume there will be more Democrats voting, likely by a wide margin. Sheriff Gonzalez has done a good job, and was on the right side of the bail reform issue, which is one reason why the Dem base likes him. Those two factors alone put him in a very comfortable spot.

Given the Dem advantage, there are two scenarios where a qualified Republican could hope t get the significant number of crossover voters they’d need to win. One is where the Democratic nominee is manifestly unqualified and a vote for that nominee would be a disaster for the office in question. The 2012 DA race, where Lloyd Oliver managed to beat a much better candidate in the primary, is the canonincal example. (It helped that the Republican candidate in that race was Mike Anderson, whose chops for the job were obvious. Joe Danna is not Mike Anderson.) The other is where the Dem incumbent is fatally tainted by scandal. The best examples here actually involve the last two Republican Sheriffs, Ron Hickman and Tommy Thomas. Sheriff Gonzalez has a clean record, so that’s a non-starter.

So, putting it all together, Sheriff Gonzalez is a solid favorite to win re-election. As well he should be.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Eleven: We reach one million

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

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

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

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

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

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

Way to go, Fort Bend!

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Here’s your Derek Ryan email:

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

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

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

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

SCOTX rejects challenges to drive-through voting

Halle-fricking-lujah.

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

November 2020 Early Voting Day Ten: Closing in on 2016

A couple of tweets to get us started:

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

Here’s your Derek Ryan email.

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

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

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

Hollins calls on Secretary of State to defend drive through voting

Good.

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

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

On a side note, we also have this:

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

“On the cusp” of another COVID surge

The numbers are already trending up. You know what that means.

Cases of COVID-19 in parts of Texas surged to near catastrophic levels this summer as some hospitals were forced to put beds in hallways, intensive care units exceeded capacity and health officials struggled to stem the tide of the virus.

After peaking in late July and August, cases fell and leveled off in September, and the state’s seven-day positivity rate — or the proportion of positive tests — reached its lowest point since early June.

But health officials are now eyeing a worrying trend: New infections are rising again, and the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 is also ticking upward. The state reported 2,273 new cases Monday, and the seven-day average was up by 862 from the previous week. On Monday, at least 4,319 patients were hospitalized with COVID-19, far below the more than 10,000 in July, but that number has steadily risen during the last month.

“I’m no longer pondering if we’re going to see a surge,” said Dr. James McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at the Baylor College of Medicine. “We’re already seeing it.”

Eight months since Texas recorded its first case, experts say the state is more prepared to handle another wave, but they fear that if the state fails to control the outbreak, it could quickly spiral out of control.

“The question is whether it’ll be a modest surge, or something like we saw in July, or worse,” McDeavitt said.

[…]

At Houston Methodist, one of the region’s largest health care systems, medical staff were stretched thin this summer, said President Marc Boom. At its peak in July, the system’s staff treated nearly 850 patients with COVID-19 each day. Since then, Boom said, the medical community’s understanding of the virus has evolved, along with how to treat the disease.

Remdesivir, an antiviral medication, has shown promising results in minimizing the severity of illness, especially when administered shortly after symptoms develop. Houston Medical was the first hospital to use convalescent plasma, a therapy in which antibody-rich blood from people who have recovered from COVID-19 is administered to ill patients, Boom said.

“We’ve had tons of experience gained, better outcomes, shorter lengths of stay,” Boom said. “But this is still a serious illness.”

While health authorities are better equipped to deal with new spikes, including an adequate supply of protective gear and sizable quantities of drugs like Remdesivir, a fall surge could still be equally as taxing on hospitals, said Carrie Kroll, vice president of advocacy, quality and public health at the Texas Hospital Association. As colder weather forces people inside and families gather for the holiday season, the chances for transmission increase, she said.

“We certainly have been tested, and we know the beast that it is, and have shown that we were able to make it through those first two spikes,” Kroll said. “But we don’t want to test the limit by putting patients into hospitals.”

See here for the previous update. It’s getting bad all around the country, too. Just a reminder, the July surge was bad, and it took Greg Abbott way too long to react to it. In the meantime, various assholes have decided that it’s a good use of their time to sue everyone in sight to limit the government’s ability to respond to COVID-19. I have one small bit of local optimism in that Harris County has not backed down from being at the top threat level even as the numbers were improving. Our numbers are also trending up, but they’re not as bad as other places. Yet, anyway.

“The trends are going in the wrong direction,” said William McKeon, president of the Texas Medical Center. “You hate to see the sacrifices we made and the successes we achieved lost because people let their guard down.”

Dr. Marc Boom, president of Houston Methodist, said, “We’ve definitely turned the wrong corner. The numbers aren’t growing in an out-of-control fashion, but there’s no doubt we’re in a significant growth trend that we need to stop before the holiday season.”

[…]

The Houston numbers are well below those in other parts of the country, particularly the Midwest and the West. As of Monday, 16 states had added more COVID-19 cases the past week than in any other seven-day period.

The surge is even greater in Europe. There the total of new cases in the five most-affected countries — France, the United Kingdom, Russia, Spain and the Netherlands — was nearly 42 percent greater than the U.S. increase a week ago.

Nor does Houston’s increase compare to the Panhandle and El Paso. El Paso health officials Monday reported their highest number of COVID-19 hospitalizations since the pandemic began — 449 in one day — and said just seven of the city’s ICU beds were unoccupied.

Still, increases in Houston area’s key metrics since early October are cause for concern, said local health officials. Those provided by the Texas Medical Center include:

• The rolling average of 497 COVID-19 cases reported the week ending Sunday represents a 33 percent increase from late September, when the number was 373. It increased gradually the weeks in between.

• The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to TMC hospitals exceeded 100 last week, up from the 80s the previous week and 70s the week before that.

• The TMC COVID-19 test positivity rate, 3.4 percent early in October, has been at 3.9 percent the past week, an 8 percent increase.

• The so-called R(t), or reproduction rate, the rate at which the virus is spreading, did drop to 0.99 Tuesday, but that remains a 55 percent increase over the Sept. 29 rate of 0.64, when the spread was decreasing. The rate last week hit 1.14, which means the virus’ spread was increasing.

“We’re in a yellow zone, not a red zone”, is how one doctor put it. “COVID fatigue”, they say this is. I get that, but you can see what happens when we start to take this less seriously. Until there’s a widely available vaccine, wear your damn mask, stay out of crowded indoor spaces, maintain social distancing, and hope for the best. At least our mild winter weather means we can largely stay outside. It could be worse.

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

And now, for something slightly different, Part One:

This was hard for Jacob Monty.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Slightly Different Part Two:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

The Chron provides five takeaways from early voting so far.

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

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

[…]

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

[…]

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

I will leave you with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

From Twitter on Friday:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

How hard it is to vote is a policy choice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still worried about the Census

There’s this.

The census came to an abrupt halt Thursday after a pandemic and a legal tug-of-war threw the massive survey into chaos. Officials around the country now fear they’ll lose their fair share of federal funding and political representation due to an incomplete count.

A George Washington University study indicates that a mere 1 percent undercount for Texas by the U.S. Census Bureau would amount to $290 million less per year in federal revenue. A lower-than-anticipated count in urban areas could also mean one or two less congressional seats and fewer electoral votes for the state, as well as a smaller share of free lunches, Medicaid and HUD dollars.

Houston is among a handful of gateway cities with growing immigrant populations that are most vulnerable to being undercounted, said Lloyd Potter, the state demographer for Texas. Low-income people, children, renters, people of color and immigrants are among the least counted; their communities then are underrepresented in government and must make do with less funding.

One in four Texans — more than 6 million people — live in hard-to-count communities, according to a 2019 report by the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an Austin-based nonpartisan organization. This demographic group includes people who may be difficult to contact, due to language barriers, or to locate, due to informal housing arrangements, or engage, due to fear.

By most estimates, Texas is on track to gain three congressional seats — more than any other state, said Richard Murray, a University of Houston political scientist specializing in Texas and U.S. electoral politics. But, it there is a significant undercount and the Trump administration excludes undocumented people, two of those new seats could be lost.

[…]

With the pandemic curtailing outreach and enumeration efforts and the stop-and-start of multiple deadlines, Potter, the state demographer, said, census workers have become worried about the repercussions of trying to tabulate the data on a drastically shortened timeline. “This is is just not like anything we ever would have expected.”

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee is among an array of local officials who have encouraged people all year to respond to the census, but the pandemic and confusion over deadlines hampered many efforts at outreach.

“I think it’s vital we recognize we’re in a dire condition,” Jackson Lee during a last-minute plea outside the student-free Blackshear Elementary campus on Thursday morning.

“It’s such a huge logistical problem counting every person in the country and to have all these problems thrown in the spokes, it’s been very difficult,” said Potter, the state demographer, who also runs the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconoic Research at University of Texas San Antonio. “This particular year there is a perfect storm of challenges for an undercount.”

Others who study the census agreed, saying it could yield surprisingly low totals.

“This is going to be the most problem-plagued census in modern times,” said Murray, the political scientist. On the front end, there was the obstacle of people who didn’t want to open their doors to enumerators amid a public health crisis. The next major obstacle is that once the data is collected, he said, we’re facing “a rogue political administration that’s unprecedentedly messing with the census to try to get it to give their party more power going forward.”

And there’s this.

The Supreme Court announced Friday that it will review President Donald Trump’s attempt to exclude undocumented immigrants when calculating how congressional seats are apportioned among the states.

The unprecedented proposal could have the effect of shifting both political power and billions of dollars in federal funds away from urban states with large immigrant populations and toward rural and more Republican interests.

A three-judge panel in New York said Trump’s July 21 memorandum on the matter was “an unlawful exercise of the authority granted to” him by Congress. It blocked the Commerce Department and the Census Bureau from including information about the number of undocumented immigrants — it is unclear how those numbers would be generated — in their reports to the president after this year’s census is completed.

The justices put the case on a fast track and said they will hold a hearing Nov. 30. By then, it probably will be a nine-member court again, if Judge Amy Coney Barrett is confirmed, giving the court a 6-to-3 conservative majority. The administration says timing matters because it must present the plan to Congress in January.

It is unclear whether the matter would divide the court along ideological lines, but the issue is another mark of how the once-­a-decade census has been transformed from a largely bureaucratic exercise into the centerpiece of a partisan battle.

I don’t actually expect any of our state leaders to care about the loss of federal funds, because those funds just go to programs that help people, which they don’t like. I am a little surprised that they might sit back passively as the state could lose one or two Congressional seats, since that represents power. With every passing day, I am more convinced that President Biden should just say that the Census was hopelessly botched by the Trump administration, and that the data they collected is worse than useless, so we have to do it again. I see no other just and equitable path forward.

Don’t look now, but COVID numbers are ticking up again

In the state as a whole.

Texas reported more than 4,100 people hospitalized with the coronavirus on Wednesday, its largest total in six weeks and one that comes amid rising infections in El Paso and North Texas.

Hospitalizations hit a low in late September after a summer surge, but have risen incrementally for the past 10 days, reaching 4,133 on Wednesday. Other key metrics were also up slightly from a week earlier, including the reported rolling average of new daily infections and the number of people testing positive for the virus.

Public health officials said the increase is likely due to a combination of factors, including pandemic fatigue and expanded reopenings, especially bars. Bars were only allowed to begin reopening in select counties on Wednesday, but many have already been opened for weeks after reclassifying as restaurants — a loophole that the state created in hopes it would lead to better social distancing.

[…]

The biggest increases appear to be in West Texas and areas in and around Dallas.

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins raised the county’s pandemic risk level back to red on Wednesday, and earlier this week Gov. Greg Abbott sent medical staff and supplies to El Paso to help respond to a wave of new COVID-19 cases.

“With a new and quickly escalating wave of COVID-19 cases hitting North Texas, it is more important than ever that we make good decisions,” Jenkins tweeted.

And here in the Houston area.

Houston-area COVID-19 numbers, trending in a positive direction for the last couple months, have taken a turn for the worse.

Four key coronavirus metrics all show an increase in the past week, according to the Texas Medical Center, which tracks the data for the complex’s seven major hospital systems. Those numbers had started trickling up the previous week in daily reports produced by the center.

The latest numbers from Wednesday’s report:

• The number of COVID-19 cases reported Tuesday, 671, represents a 62 percent increase over last week’s daily average of 412 cases per day.

• The number of COVID-19 patients admitted to TMC hospitals Tuesday, 102, represents an 18 percent increase over last week’s daily average of 86 patients per day.

• The TMC COVID-19 test positivity rate of 3.8 percent represents an 8 percent over last week’s daily average.

• The so-called R(t), or reproduction rate, the rate at which the virus is spreading, hit 1.16 Tuesday, an 18 percent increase in the past week. On Sept. 29, the number was 0.64, which meant the virus’ spread was then decreasing significantly.

The latest metric is probably the most concerning to health officials. A number below 1.0 means the virus is burning out in the area; a number above 1.0 means the spread is accelerating. After 32 consecutive days in which the metric showed the virus was burning out in the Houston area, it now shows the virus is again picking up steam.

And as was the case in the month of June, it’s already too late to stop this. The best we can do now is go back to what we had been doing before to bend the curve back in the downward direction. First and foremost, wear your goddamn masks, and practice social distancing. Don’t be this guy.

As for bars, I want them to survive, and I’ve been up front about the arbitrariness of the state’s definition of what a “bar” is versus what a “restaurant” is. I support the various ways that have been suggested to help bars survive by being more like restaurants, and by enabling to-go and outdoor service. And we really need a federal rescue bill for bars and restaurants and theaters and music halls and other public-gathering businesses that have been so devastated by this pandemic. But we have to be real and recognize that there are no circumstances under which crowding a bunch of people into indoor spaces is a good idea. How many times are we going to have to learn this lesson? The Trib has more.

All those voter registration efforts did what they set out to do

News item #1: Texas adds nearly 300,000 more voters in the last two weeks, approaches 17 million voters overall.

Still the only voter ID anyone should need

In just two weeks, Texas added more than 284,000 more voters to its rolls just before the registration deadline and now has a record-setting 16.9 million voters heading into the first day of early voting on Tuesday.

That is an increase of 1.8 million voters just since the last presidential election in 2016 — a 12-percent increase in voters.

Nowhere have the gains been greater than along Interstate 35 — a region that has become a blue spine in the heart of an otherwise red state. Of the 1.8 million voters added since 2016, half have come from the 21 counties that stretch from Laredo north into San Antonio, Austin, Waco and the Dallas-Fort Worth region.

The biggest percentage increase has been in Central Texas where Hays, Williamson and Comal counties have all seen their voter registration rolls grow by 24 percent or more. Further north, outside of Dallas, suburban Collin and Denton counties have seen voter rolls grow 19 percent and 21 percent respectively.

[…]

In Bexar County, voter registration has jumped from just over 1 million in 2016 to 1.2 million this year.

“There’s an energy out there,” former San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro said on a conference call with former Congressman Beto O’Rourke on Monday. “There’s a hunger for change.”

Just as a point of comparison, at the same 59.39% turnout level that we had in 2016, Texas will see a smidge over ten million voters. Approximately 78% of all voting age Texans are registered, which is where it was in 2016. Note that not all voting age Texans are eligible to vote – we do have a large non-citizen population, after all – so I don’t know offhand what the maximum would be. But we’re likely not that far from it.

New item #2: Record voter turnout expected, as Harris County roll grows by 234K since 2016.

Harris County has added nearly 234,000 voters to its rolls since 2016, despite adding just 143,000 residents during the same period.

As of Monday, the county had a record 2,468,559 registered voters for next month’s presidential election, according to the soon-to-be-final tally by the county voter registrar office.

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has yet to confirm a final tally of registered voters from all 254 counties. The current count stands at 16.9 million, an increase of 12 percent, or 1.8 million, since four years ago. About 28 percent of that increase came in Harris, Bexar and Travis counties.

The growth benefits both major political parties, said Southern Methodist University political science professor Cal Jillson, but gives an edge to Democrats, who have a greater number of potential supporters who are unregistered.

Republicans draw a lot of support from Anglo voters, who already are registered and participate at high levels. African American and Latino residents, who historically have faced higher barriers to voting, could be a crucial source of new supporters for Democrats, he said.

“There’s just more room to grow the vote on the Democratic side than the Republican side,” Jillson said.

Young voters who just turned 18, especially Latinos, and naturalized citizens are two pools of voters where Democrats can make gains, University of Houston political science professor Jeronimo Cortina said.

“Democrats have a more diverse pool of people that sympathize with the Democratic Party,” Cortina said. “Part of it is, you have a tremendous pool of eligible potential voters in the state, especially in the urban areas, that four years ago was not tapped.”

Going again by 2016 turnout, which was 61.33%, would put turnout at over 1.51 million in Harris County, easily surpassing the 1.34 million we had in 2016. We would need over 68% turnout to get to 1.7 million, a number that County Clerk Chris Hollins has floated. That’s a bit high for me, but we could get close to 1.6 million if this really is a high-water year for turnout. Remember, the record number of people who voted in 2016 were a lower percentage of registered voters than in 2012 or 2008, but because there were so many more registered voters, the overall total was higher. Turnout as a percentage of registered voters was 62.81% in 2008, and at that level we’d top 1.55 million voters, for an increase of over 200K from 2016.

As we’ve seen so far, turnout numbers have been off the charts. A lot of that is from regular voters, but not all of them. There’s almost two million more voters in Texas than there were in 2016 – it won’t take much from them to have a significant effect, and that’s before we take into account the potential for higher turnout among less-frequent voters. We can’t say too much just yet, but the conditions are there to make the kind of difference Dems have been working towards.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Four: One hundred thousand is the magic number

Lather, rinse, repeat.

The county announced it had passed the 100K mark in a tweet just after 6 p.m. It was the four straight day with more than 100,000 ballots cast by county voters.

Those four days now mark the four highest single-day totals in the county’s early voting history.

Through the first four days of early voting, roughly 500,000 Harris County residents have cast their ballots at early voting locations or through the mail. That is about half the total early and absentee turnout from 2016, when some 985,000 Harris County residents voted before Election Day.

Seemed like yesterday started out slowly, with the rain in the area, but by the end of the day we had reached the same 100K benchmark as before. Saturday has always been a heavy day during early voting, but that’s been in the context of shorter first week hours and only Saturday of the EV period. I expect it will still be busy, but maybe not much different than what we’ve seen so far. But who knows?

Here are your Day One, Day Two, and Day Three numbers, and we’ll go ahead and finish off that daily comparison to finish the first work week.


Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three  Day Four    Total
======================================================
2008     39,201    43,411    43,782    44,235  170,629
2012     47,093    51,578    52,051    51,240  201,962
2016     64,471    73,542    76,098    76,329  290,440
2018     63,188    64,781    62,476    58,938  249,383
2020    128,186   114,996   105,175   104,870  453,227

Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three  Day Four    Total
======================================================
2008     68,502    44,428    47,991   45,503   206,424
2012     87,679    55,105    53,744   54,765   251,293
2016    129,014    76,376    81,744   79,349   366,483
2018    115,601    66,315    64,035   63,164   309,115
2020    169,523   118,008   111,435  112,709   511,675

Top table is in person votes, bottom is all votes. The Day Four daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. We’re now over 58K mail ballots returned, so I feel pretty comfortable saying we’ll be at least at parity with 2016 by the time we see the Monday number. A bit less than one fourth of all the ballots that have been sent out have been returned so far.

I don’t have much to add today. Here’s the Derek Ryan report, and here’s a Texas Monthly story that puts some context onto what we’ve seen. Remember, Monday is the day that early voting would have started. Have you voted yet?

And it’s off to SCOTX for the Republicans who want to stop drive-through voting

It was inevitable.

State and local Republicans have taken their challenge of drive-thru voting in Harris County to the Texas Supreme Court.

In separate petitions, the Texas and Harris County GOP are asking the state’s highest court to limit drive-thru voting, which Clerk Christopher Hollins opened this year at 10 sites and made available to all voters.

The GOP argues the new practice is a form of curbside voting, which only is allowed for people who are sick at the time, have a physical condition that requires personal assistance or are at risk of injured health if they venture inside a polling location.

[…]

“The aforementioned criteria for curbside voting is equally applicable to ballots by mail voting,” the petition said. “With respect to ballot by mail voting, the Texas Supreme Court has already held that a voter’s lack of immunity to COVID-19, without more, is not a ‘disability’ as defined by the Election Code, and therefore, is not a sufficient basis to permit a voter to validly vote by mail.”

The county argues its drive-thru sites are not a form of curbside voting. The 10 sites are contained within a parking garage or tent facilities, a quality attorneys argue satisfies the criteria to be polling sites in their own right.

“The basic requirement for polling places is that it’s in a building,” Assistant County Attorney Doug Ray said. “We’re interpreting that as long as we have a permanent or temporary structure,” it’s OK.

Even if it were curbside voting, Ray argued, it is up to the voter to decide whether he or she has a disability. The county does not have the legal authority to question disability claims, he said.

It is not clear how the votes already cast at drive-thru sites would be handled if the Supreme Court were to side with the plaintiffs.

The state GOP’s petition asks for a ruling forcing Hollins to “reject any curbside voting efforts” that do not comply with its interpretation of the law.

See here and here for the background, and here for both of the plaintiffs’ petitions. I have no idea how quickly the Supreme Court might move on this, but we’ve had three full days of drive-through voting so far, and going by the daily report, thousands of people have used it. I can’t imagine any ruling for the plaintiffs that wouldn’t be deeply disruptive, and that’s exactly the sort of thing that’s not supposed to happen with court rulings close to an election. But like I’ve said, the Supreme Court’s gonna do what the Supreme Court’s gonna do, and all we can do is adjust when they do it. Stay tuned.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Three: It’s still raining voters out there

People want to vote.

About 1.9 million Texans had cast ballots in-person or by mail as of Wednesday, according to state and county election data, continuing to crush state records for early voting.

The 2020 presidential election is expected to be one of the highest turnout elections in recent memory, with many ballots flooding in by mail amid the coronavirus pandemic. Texas surpassed 1.1 million ballots cast on the first day of early voting on Tuesday. Early voting will continue through Oct. 30 – six days longer than the usual two-week period because of the public health crisis.

Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3.

The record-breaking tallies come amid multiple legal battles to expand voter access in Texas. The state is one of just five that do not allow voters to use the fear of the coronavirus as a reason to vote by mail, but all seniors ages 65 and older are automatically eligible for it.

Honestly, I believe that all of the blatant attempts to make it harder to vote are just pissing people off at this point, and we Dems were pretty damn mad to begin with. I understand why the Republicans are doing what they’re doing, but I think it will backfire on them – I think it already is backfiring on them. The thing is, most people actually want the voting process, which includes voter registration, to be easier and more convenient, for the simple reason that it’s good for them. You can fearmonger all you want about “fraud”, but people will like the experience, in the same way that they like same-day delivery for online shopping and home delivery for takeout. Who doesn’t like that kind of thing? Whatever electoral benefits there may be for the Republicans this year, it’s very much a long-term loser to oppose this stuff, at every turn and with complete vehemence.

Anyway, people are very much still voting in force in Harris County.

Harris County is on pace to welcome another 100,000 voters to its polls Thursday, continuing its record-breaking early voting turnout.

Roughly 80,000 people had cast their ballots as of 4 p.m. Thursday, according to the Harris County Clerk’s office, a rate of about 8,800 voters per hour. If that pace holds up through 7 p.m. when the polls close, the county would process another 106,000 or so ballots Thursday.

The tally was 128,186 on Tuesday and 114,996 Wednesday. More than a quarter million Harris County residents already have cast ballots, with more than two weeks of early voting remaining.

In 2016, the county fielded roughly 884,000 early votes.

We may surpass that number by early next week. I mean, at some point we will stop seeing such high daily totals, as we will literally run out of voters eventually, but with 2,468,559 total registered voters, the well is still pretty deep.

Let’s go back to what I said earlier about ease and convenience, because Harris County, under Judge Hidalgo and with Commissioners Rodney Ellis and Adrian Garcia and of course County Clerk Chris Hollins, has done the work to make this all happen.

Elections matter, y’all. Here’s Judge Hidalgo on MSNBC talking about it.

Yesterday I got the first Derek Ryan email breaking down the statewide vote roster so far. A taste:

Through the first two days of early voting, nearly two million people have voted by mail or in person. That is roughly 10% of all registered voters in Texas. I say roughly because so many people registered to vote during the week before the registration deadline that we don’t know what the total number of registered voters in the state is.

Of all the people who have voted through the first two days of early voting, about 90% have previously voted in a General Election in Texas. What does this tell us? There are a lot of people eager to vote, but they aren’t necessarily “new” voters.

What else does the data tell us? Democrats are energized and ready to vote (but you didn’t necessarily need me to tell you that). For example, of all voters who have voted in all four of the last four Democratic Primaries, 40.6% have already voted early. Of all voters who have voted in all four of the last four Republican Primaries, 24.6% have voted early. It is worth noting that when everything is said and done, 95%+ of both of these groups will end having voted.

When reviewing the breakdown of early voters by age, please note that ballot by mail voters are nearly all age 65 or older. Because early voting has only been taking place for a few days, senior voters who voted by mail will skew the percentages. Their share of all votes cast will likely come down as we continue through early voting.

There’s more, and you can see his nice charts for the data. It remains the case that about 30% have no previous primary history, which includes the new voters.

While we are clearly seeing a ton of energy from the old faithfuls, especially on the Dem side, there are some advantages to that. One, that energy is contagious, and when people see that their friends have voted, they’re more likely to vote. Most importantly, it means the campaigns can concentrate their energy and resources on the lower-propensity folks, since they don’t have to spend nearly as much time contacting the regulars. Believe me, every Democratic candidate and campaign manager is happy with this.

There’s also one more thing, which hadn’t occurred to me before I saw this tweet:

I mean, if you’ve already voted, then there are no adverse conditions on Election Day that can stop you – bad weather, traffic problems, illness, electric outages, bear attack, whatever. These things do happen.

Anyway. Here are your Day One and Day Two numbers, and despite my previous mumblings about comparisons across years in this weird season, here’s an extension of what I did yesterday:


Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three    Total
============================================
2008     39,201    43,411    43,782  126,394
2012     47,093    51,578    52,051  150,722
2016     64,471    73,542    76,098  214,111
2018     63,188    64,781    62,476  190,445
2020    128,186   114,996   105,175  348,357

Year    Day One   Day Two Day Three    Total
============================================
2008     68,502    44,428    47,991  160,921
2012     87,679    55,105    53,744  196,528
2016    129,014    76,376    81,744  287,134
2018    115,601    66,315    64,035  245,951
2020    169,523   118,008   111,435  398,966

Top table is in person votes, bottom is all votes. The Day Three daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here. Note that we are now at 50,609 mail ballots returned, so basically at 2018 levels, with three more mail delivery days to come.

One last thing, as we await a final word on drive-through voting: A lot of people have used it. 32,509 votes have been cast by drive-through voters. I don’t know what the Supreme Court is gonna do with that mandamus petition, but the potential for them to wreak havoc is non-trivial.

Petition to stop drive-through voting dismissed

That was quick.

Drive-thru and curbside voting programs in Harris County can continue after a state appeals court Wednesday quickly threw out a last-minute lawsuit filed by the Texas Republican Party challenging the county’s efforts to provide more voting options during the coronavirus pandemic. The state GOP had filed suit Monday night asking the court to place limits on curbside voting and halt drive-thru voting.

The appellate judges said the party and a voter who filed the suit did so too late, and did not show how they specifically might be injured by the voting practices. The lawsuit was filed just hours before early voting polls opened and more than a month after the Harris County Clerk announced his plan for drive-thru voting.

“The election is currently in progress and the relators delayed filing this mandamus until over a month after learning of the actions of the Harris County Clerk’s Office,” the panel of three judges on Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals wrote in their ruling dismissing the case.

A Texas Republican Party spokesperson said it plans to appeal Wednesday’s ruling to the Texas Supreme Court “to ensure that no illegal votes would be cast and counted in this election.” In an unrelated recent voting lawsuit, the state’s high court ruled against another voting challenge because it was filed too late, saying changes during an ongoing election could cause voter confusion.

See here for the background, and here for the 14th Court’s ruling. It should be noted that the court dismissed the petition “sua sponte”, which is the fancy Latin phrase for “on its own initiative”. In other words, the court didn’t ask for the defendants to submit a response – the petition didn’t meet the bar for having a claim to be decided. That’s a pretty strong statement.

A bit from the ruing makes it clear what the problem was, and it wasn’t just the timing. The first two issues the court addressed were the standing of the plaintiffs to bring this challenge:

To have standing under section 273.061, a party must demonstrate that it “possesses an interest in a conflict distinct from that of the general public, such that the defendant’s actions have caused the plaintiff some particular injury.” In re Kherkher, 604 S.W.3d 548, 553 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] 2020, orig. proceeding) (quoting Williams v. Lara, 52 S.W.3d 171, 178 (Tex. 2001)).The claimant must show a particularized injury beyond that of the general public. Id. “Our decisions have always required a plaintiff to allege some injury distinct from that sustained by the public at large.” Brown v. Todd, 53 S.W.3d 297, 302 (Tex. 2001). “No Texas court has ever recognized that a plaintiff’s status as a voter, without more, confers standing to challenge the lawfulness of governmental acts.” Id. For example, a voter lacks standing to seek the removal of an ineligible candidate from the ballot because the voter has no special interest. See, e.g., Clifton v. Walters, 308 S.W.3d 94, 99 (Tex. App.—Fort Worth 2010, pet. denied); Brimer v. Maxwell, 265 S.W.3d 926, 928 (Tex. App.—Dallas 2008, no pet.).

Standing requires “a concrete injury to the plaintiff and a real controversy between the parties that will be resolved by the court.” Heckman, 369 S.W.3d at 154. Texas has adopted the federal courts’ standing doctrine to determine the constitutional jurisdiction of state courts. Id. To maintain standing, petitioners must show: (1) an “injury in fact” that is both “concrete and particularized” and “actual or imminent”; (2) that the injury is “fairly traceable” to the defendant’s challenged actions; and (3) that it is “‘likely,’ as opposed to merely ‘speculative,’ and that the injury will be ‘redressed by a favorable decision.’” Id. at 154–55 (quoting Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61 (1992)).

RELATORS’ FAILURE TO SHOW STANDING

Pichardo argues that he has standing to obtain mandamus relief under Election Code section 273.061 because, unless Hollins is compelled to enforce Election Code sections 64.009, 82.002, and 104.001 with respect to curbside voting, Pichardo is at risk of having his vote canceled out by an ineligible vote. But that alleged harm is true of every member of the general public who is registered to vote. Pichardo lacks standing because he has not shown that he has an interest or a particularized injury that is distinct from that of the general public. See, e.g., Brown, 53 S.W.3d at 302; In re Kherkher, 604 S.W.3d at 553; In re Pichardo, No. 14-20-00685-CV, 2020 WL 5950178, at *2 (Tex. App.—Houston [14th Dist.] Oct. 8, 2020, orig. proceeding) (per curiam) (mem. op.).

The Republican Party of Texas argues that Hollins’s alleged intent to not enforce Election Code sections 64.009, 82.002, and 104.001 with respect to curbside voting will harm its mission and purpose of advancing limited government, lower taxes, less spending, and individual liberty and promoting compliance with state election statutes. The Republican Party of Texas lacks standing because it has not shown that it has an interest or a particularized injury that is distinct from that of the general public. See, e.g., In re Kherkher, 604 S.W.3d at 553. The Republican Party of Texas cites no authority that supports its standing argument.

In other words, neither the voter they dragged up to be a plaintiff, nor the Republican Party of Texas itself, can claim any injury that a court would recognize. Their complaint basically amounts to “but some people might vote in a way we don’t like”, and the court has no time for that. At least, this court had no time for it. I suppose SCOTX could do something different, but that’s always the risk. The fact that voting has in fact already started should also be a barrier to entry, but again, we’ll see.

Three minor points of note: One, the GOP was represented by our old buddy Andy Taylor – just search the archives for that name, and you’ll see why I’m laughing. Two, this ruling also cited the 2008 lawsuit brought by supporters of then-Sen. Kim Brimer in their attempt to knock Wendy Davis off the ballot, before she successfully knocked Brimer out of the Senate. And three, based on that “In re Pichardo” footnote, this particular plaintiff has served that role for whichever Republican group is seeking to stop some form of voting in court before, during this cycle. Put that name on your watch list for the future, these guys get around. The Chron has more.

November 2020 Early Voting Day Two: One million votes on Day One

Pretty impressive so far.

More than a million Texans have already cast ballots after just the first day of early voting.

And the state isn’t even finished counting the first day’s numbers.

Record breaking early voting, combined with unusually high mail-in ballot returns show Texas has already surpassed 1 million votes with still three more weeks of voting come.

Harris County by far had the biggest turnout on the first day, with almost 170,000 ballots cast in-person or through mail-in voting as of Wednesday morning. In 2016, Harris County had just under 130,000 ballots submitted on the first day.

[…]

Dallas County was next with almost 60,000 in-person votes cast on the first day, with at least another 30,000 votes now in from mail-in voting.

Bexar County recorded just over 33,000 votes cast in-person on the first day of early voting and has already seen more than 45,000 mail-in ballots come in. The 78,000 votes are way ahead of the 52,000 combined mail and in-person voting during the first day of early voting in 2016.

El Paso County saw one of the biggest jumps in the state with almost 34,000 votes already in through early voting and mail-in balloting. The county reported just over 19,000 combined in 2016 on the first day of voting.

You can track early voting numbers around the state here, though please note that as of late yesterday afternoon, there were still a lot that were missing or incomplete. I’ll take more of a look at this later, when things have stabilized a bit.

Also of note:

I covered these Day One numbers yesterday, and while it doesn’t make sense to do daily comparisons because of the longer early voting period, and because EV started on a Tuesday this year, we can see how Day Two has gone:


Year    Day One   Day Two
=========================
2008     39,201    43,411
2012     47,093    51,578
2016     64,471    73,542
2018     63,188    64,781
2020    128,186   118,008

The Day Two daily EV totals are here. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here.

If you were wondering how Day Two of 2020 could possibly compare to Day One, well, that total for all of Day Two in 2016 was exceeded by 4PM, so folks still very much have the urge. This year is the first year where Day Two was a decline from Day One, but considering that both days are higher than any previous EV day, I think we can accept it. Oh, and two days in we’re basically at ten percent turnout.

By the way, there were 114,996 in person votes and 3,012 mail votes, so we’re at 44,349 mail ballots overall. I feel confident we will easily reach 2018 mail levels, and should at least approach 2016. I can’t wait to see what the rest of the week brings for in person voting, too. Have you voted yet?

30 Day 2020 campaign finance reports: State races, part 2

Continuing to look at the 30-day campaign finance reports. A lot of candidates have been reporting big hauls, especially in the hot State Rep races. As before, I will split these into four parts. Part one, with statewide, SBOE, and State Senate, is here. Part two is State House races from the Houston area, which is this post. Part three will be State House races from elsewhere in the state, and part four will be for Democratic incumbents that may be targeted. I’m not going to be doing every race of course, just the ones of interest. January reports for Harris County State House races are here, and the July reports for these candidates are here.

Martin Shupp, HD03
Cecil Bell, HD03

Lorena McGill, HD15
Steve Toth, HD15

Jeff Antonelli, HD23
Mayes Middleton, HD23

Brian Rogers, HD24
Greg Bonnen, HD24

Patrick Henry, HD25
Cody Vasut, HD25

Sarah DeMerchant, HD26
Jacey Jetton, HD26

Eliz Markowitz, HD28
Gary Gates, HD28

Travis Boldt, HD29
Ed Thompson, HD29

Joe Cardenas, HD85
Phil Stephenson, HD85

Natali Hurtado, HD126
Sam Harless, HD126

Kayla Alix, HD129
Dennis Paul, HD129

Gina Calanni, HD132
Mike Schofield, HD132

Sandra Moore, HD133
Jim Murphy, HD133

Ann Johnson, HD134
Sarah Davis, HD134

Jon Rosenthal, HD135
Justin Ray, HD135

Akilah Bacy, HD138
Lacey Hull, HD138


Dist   Candidate       Raised     Spent       Loan     On Hand
==============================================================
HD03   Shupp              305       618          0         305
HD03   Bell            12,400    14,708     82,140      16,924

HD15   McGill          27,474    23,342          0      12,161
HD15   Toth            38,615    18,138          0      40,889

HD23   Antonelli       10,889     5,393          0       5,495
HD23   Middleton      318,855    85,129    500,000     317,001

HD24   Rogers             455       240          0       1,170
HD24   Bonnen          47,466    70,626    450,000     541,745

HD25   Henry            3,010     5,355          0       1,775
HD25   Vasut           37,245    23,251      1,600       1,865

HD26   DeMerchant     322,433    94,227          0      90,146
HD26   Jetton         295,526    26,240     25,000      91,922

HD28   Markowitz      108,038    55,813          0      68,241
HD28   Gates          374,629   371,476  1,736,100      67,328

HD29   Boldt           59,421    18,253          0      40,635
HD29   Thompson       106,896   148,176          0     344,974

HD85   Cardenas        14,731     7,872      5,027       2,830
HD85   Stephenson      12,375    22,403     29,791      24,691

HD126  Hurtado        311,139   107,738          0     210,474
HD126  Harless        449,290    53,893     20,000     290,216

HD129  Alix            43,480     7,991          0      35,568
HD129  Paul            72,400    45,052    156,000      45,875

HD132  Calanni        308,292    75,081          0     235,006
HD132  Schofield      252,100    65,647          0      98,339

HD133  Moore           10,976    11,207          0       9,593
HD133  Murphy         140,000    89,105          0     586,798

HD134  Johnson        481,430   292,265          0     314,593
HD134  Davis          597,463    93,842          0     299,564

HD135  Rosenthal      206,564   111,248          0     110,589
HD135  Ray            418,811   126,810          0      52,800

HD138  Bacy           630,565    99,967          0     353,811
HD138  Hull           277,421    45,612          0      84,768

First things first, I had the wrong Republican listed for HD26 last time. Just a goof on my part, which is now corrected.

Also, as a reminder, when there’s a big disparity between the money raised and spent, and the cash on hand, look for a significant amount of in kind donations. A lot of the contributions to Mike Schofield, Justin Ray (nearly $300K in his case), and Lacey Hull are expenditures on their behalf by PACs like Associated Republicans on Texas. Some of this spending is quite visible – I’ve seen many ads for Hull and Ray (mostly Hull) on cable, mostly during sporting events. Some of that is wasted since I don’t live anywhere near either of their districts, but I’m sure people in those district did see them.

The main action outside of Harris County is in HD26, where both Sarah DeMerchant and Jacey Jetton. Both of them also had large in kind totals – $107K for deMerchant, mostly from the HDCC, and $170K for Jetton, again mostly from the ART. Eliz Markowitz raised a decent amount, and I give Lorena McGill and A for effort in her deep red district. The one candidate I wish had done better is Travis Boldt. HD29 is not a must-have to win the House, but it’s in a part of Brazoria County that’s been trending blue, and I feel like it’s worth the investment. Maybe something will happen in the 8 day reporting period. On the Republican side, Phil Stephenson has it in cruise control, and so far his anti-Abbott apostasy hasn’t been particularly lucrative yet for Steve Toth.

Natali Hurtado has another strong report, putting her a the top of the class among Democratic challengers to incumbents. Sam Harless is taking that challenge seriously. None of the longer-shot candidates have raised enough to change perceptions.

Gina Calanni and Jon Rosenthal have done well, though Rosenthal was outgunned by the PAC money that boosted Justin Ray. Sarah Davis bounced back from her unimpressive July report but still trails Ann Johnson in cash on hand. Akilah Bacy ($212K in kind) had the big report of the period. I have seen one pro-Bacy ad so far – I mostly watch sports on live TV, so maybe she’s got some running on other channels, who knows – and at least one anti-Bacy attack ad to go along with the Lacey Hull ads. I’ve seen a few Rosenthal ads as well, not as many as the Ray ads, but not too far behind. I’ve not seen any ads for Johnson or Davis, though I’m closer to HD134 than either 135 or 138. Maybe better targeting, or they’re not doing TV, or just not advertising where I’m watching. Have you seen any ads for any of these races?

More races from around the state coming next. Let me know what you think.

Fifth Circuit upholds Abbott’s mail ballot dropoff limits

Because of course they did. Why would you have expected anything else?

In a ruling issued late Monday night, a federal appeals court upheld Gov. Greg Abbott’s order that limited counties to one mail-in ballot drop-off location.

A three-judge panel of the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, all appointed by President Donald Trump, rejected arguments from civil and voting rights groups that claimed Abbott’s order suppressed voting rights by making it harder to cast a ballot, particularly for elderly and disabled voters who are the most likely to use mail-in balloting.

In reality, the judges said, Abbott expanded voting options by suspending a state law that allows mail-in ballots to be hand delivered only on Election Day — a July 27 order that Abbott merely refined on Oct. 1 by closing multiple ballot drop-off sites in Travis and three other large counties, the panel said.

“That effectively gives voters 40 extra days to hand-deliver a marked mail-in ballot to an early voting clerk. And the voter still has the traditional option she has always had for casting a mail-in ballot: mailing it,” Judge Stuart Kyle Duncan wrote for the panel.

The ruling blocked Friday’s injunction from U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman, who said Abbott’s order placed an unacceptable burden on voters who are most vulnerable to COVID-19.

[…]

The panel criticized Pitman for vastly overstating the magnitude of the burden on voting rights caused by Abbott’s “partial refinement” of an earlier order that made it easier for eligible Texans to hand deliver a ballot before Nov. 3.

“How this expansion of voting opportunities burdens anyone’s right to vote is a mystery,” Duncan wrote. “Indeed, one strains to see how it burdens voting at all.”

Texans still have “numerous ways” to participate before the Nov. 3 election — by voting early beginning Tuesday because Abbott added six days to the early voting period as a pandemic safety measure, by hand delivering completed mail-in ballots before Election Day, and by dropping their ballot in the mail, Duncan said.

See here and here for the background. Never mind the fact that the state of Texas had previously affirmed that multiple dropoff locations were legal, never mind the fact that Abbott issued this order a week before early voting began and more than two months after Harris County had announced its plan for multiple locations, and of course never mind the global pandemic that has everyone seeking to mitigate their own personal risk. Abbott extended the early voting period, so what are you peasants complaining about?

I mean, look. The Harris County Clerk used legal means to make voting easier and more accessible. The Governor used a false pretext to overrule him, and did so late in the process after people had been led to expect what the Clerk had implemented. The fact that the Governor had indeed taken steps to expand voting access isn’t relevant. The fact that most other counties hadn’t taken similar action as Harris isn’t relevant – they could have and in many cases should have, and if the Governor thought that was unfair to the voters in the slacking counties, he could have used the same authority he exercised here to try to spur those other counties to action. The point is that Harris County stood for making it easier and more convenient to vote, and the state of Texas said no, you can’t do that. In response, the Fifth Circuit said “we don’t see the problem here”. That’s what we’re up against.

I should note that there is still that state lawsuit, which will have a hearing this week. I don’t expect much at this point, but duty compels me to point this out. I presume the other federal lawsuit – as I observed before, this was a combination of two federal lawsuits, but did not include the third – is now moot. As we have seen over and over again, the way forward is going to require winning more elections first.

State GOP files suit to stop curbside voting in Harris County

Honesty, it feels like they’re just trolling now.

Hours before early voting began, the Texas Republican Party filed a new lawsuit Monday night challenging Harris County’s efforts to provide more voting options during the coronavirus pandemic, this time asking a court to limit curbside voting and halt the county’s drive-thru voting programs.

State election law has long allowed voters with medical conditions to vote curbside. After they arrive at a polling location, a ballot is brought outside to them in their vehicle by an election worker. In addition to urging qualified voters to use the curbside option this year, Harris County also opened designated “drive-thru” polling locations for all voters, where poll workers hand people a voting machine through their car window after checking their photo identification.

The state GOP’s lawsuit, filed in a state appeals court in Houston, seeks to halt the drive-thru voting program and limit curbside voting to those who have submitted sworn applications saying they qualify for it. Glenn Smith, a senior strategist with Progress Texas, said Tuesday he could find nothing in the law requiring an application to vote curbside. Texas election law instructs election officers to deliver an on-site curbside ballot if a voter is “physically unable to enter the polling place without personal assistance or likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.”

“Unless stopped, each of these instances of illegal voting will cast a cloud over the results of the General Election,” the lawsuit states.

Chris Hollins, the Harris County Clerk, said the latest lawsuit is in line with the Republican Party “feverishly” using resources to limit people’s right to vote.

“This lawsuit is not only frivolous, but it’s also a gross misrepresentation of the differences between curbside voting — for voters with disabilities, including illness — and drive-thru voting, which is available for all voters who want to vote from the safety and convenience of their vehicle,” he said in a statement Tuesday.

[…]

The Republicans argue that fear of contracting the coronavirus isn’t enough under state election law to qualify for curbside voting. Their point is bolstered by a May ruling from the all-Republican state Supreme Court which said a lack of immunity to the coronavirus is not a disability that qualifies Texans to vote by mail. But Texas law differentiates between mail-in ballots — which must be requested ahead of time through an application under strict qualifications, like a disability — and curbside voting, which is requested onsite.

The Texas secretary of state’s office has repeatedly said this year that those who have symptoms or signs of the new coronavirus should use curbside voting. The office has provided placards for county election officials to use at polling locations that urge curbside voting for sick people or those who can’t enter a polling place without the “likelihood of injuring your health.”

[…]

Voters must provide photo identification, then will be handed a portable voting machine in their car, according to the website. The clerk’s office notes drive-thru voting is open to all voters, as opposed to curbside voting which is applicable for those with a disability.

The lawsuit filed Monday says drive-thru voting is an expansion of curbside voting, and therefore can’t be available to all voters. The Republican Party also notes that election law states polling places must be located inside a building, and the county’s promotional video for drive-thru voting is in an outdoor parking lot.

I will admit that I have generally not distinguished between curbside and drive-through voting. I’d not given any thought to the difference, or even that there was a difference. I will point out here that this drive-through method was piloted for the primary runoffs, and formally announced as part of the county’s overall election plan in August. I will also note that Bexar County had announced their own plans for drive-though voting even earlier in August. This once again raises the question of “if you’re gonna sue about this, why is it taking you so long?”

The Chron has some more details.

In a petition filed late Monday in Texas’ 14th Court of Appeals, the Texas Republican Party contended the Texas Election Code limits curbside voting, including drive-thru voting, to voters who are sick or disabled, or if voting inside the polling location “would create a likelihood of injuring the voter’s health.” Those provisions do not apply to the coronavirus pandemic, the party argued in its filing.

“Chris Hollins is telling all Harris County residents that they are eligible for curbside voting when he knows that is not the case,” the party said in a statement. “Any voter that does not qualify to vote curbside under narrow statutory language would be voting illegally if allowed to vote drive-through.”

[…]

Assistant County Attorney Douglas Ray said county officials are comfortable with the legality of drive-thru voting because they do not consider it to be a form of curbside voting. The drive-thru locations, he noted, are all inside buildings, such as garages and temporary structures, which he said prevents them from being curbside under Texas law.

“We looked at this carefully before we decided to do it and feel that it’s within the boundaries of the law,” Ray said. “It’s disingenuous on their part to try to classify drive-thru as curbside, because that is not what we’re doing.”

This was filed with the 14th Court of Appeals, so I presume it’s a writ of mandamus. (I couldn’t find any filings when I searched the 14th Court website, but maybe I was just searching wrong.) I presume also that the 14th Court is under no obligation to issue a ruling in a timely manner – I’d say sitting on this one, then dismissing it as moot is the fate it deserves, but then I’m both petty and Not A Lawyer, so don’t pay too much attention to that. We all understand what this is about, and we all understand the motivation for it. The courts are gonna do what they’re gonna do, and we’ll go from there. Let’s not give this any more thought than that.

November 2020 Early Voting Day One: People sure were ready to vote

You’re going to hear the words “record-breaking” a lot.

More than 125,000 Harris County residents went to the polls Tuesday to cast ballots on the first day of early voting, smashing the county’s previous records.

As of about 7:30 p.m., the county was reporting roughly 128,000 votes with some people still casting ballots.

The polls were scheduled to close at 7 p.m., but people who were in line at that time still can vote.

The previous record for the first day of early voting was roughly 68,000 in 2016, which the county surpassed around 1:40 p.m. Tuesday.

Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins said the county also broke the record for most early votes on any day, which was set on the last day of the 2016 period.

“We’ve had a record first day of Early Voting in Harris County,” the clerk’s office said on Twitter.

Here is your Day One report. It looks funny because it doesn’t all fit on one page horizontally, and there are so many more locations than before. It’s not going to make sense to do daily comparisons with past elections, but let’s compare Day Ones just for fun:


Election     Mail      Early      Total   Mail %
================================================
2008       29,301     39,201     68,502    42.8%
2012       40,566     47,093     87,659    46.3%
2016       61,543     64,471    129,014    47.7%
2018       52,413     63,188    115,601    45.3%
2020       41,337    128,186    169,523    24.4%

I threw 2018 in there because it was such a high-enthusiasm election. You can find the daily totals for 2008 and 2012 (and 2016 as well, but I’ve got a separate link for it) here, for 2016 here, and for 2018 here.

I would not read anything into the smaller number of mail ballots so far, mostly because there will be another six days of their return before we’d be at the same point in the calendar as the other years. My guess is we’ll be past where 2018 was and close to 2016 if not past it by next Monday.

What does this mean for final turnout? Hard to say right now, though as noted the excitement and drive to vote is as think as rush hour traffic. The daily vote roster will give us some idea how many of these folks are the old reliables and how many are newer or less likely to participate. For sure, some of this is a shift in behavior, but we’re now already more than ten percent of the way to 1.5 million total voters, and that’s on the low end of the “turnout as a percentage of registered voters” scale. Note also that some folks prefer to wait a bit precisely because Day One is always busy. I’m probably going to vote early next week, or maybe later this week. Let’s see what the next few days look like, and remember that outside of Day One, the rest of the first week is usually the slow period.

All that fervor to vote did mean some long lines and a few glitches, but overall things went as well as you could want in Harris County.

In Harris County, which is operating 112 early voting locations, 10 of which include drive-through voting, dozens of people were waiting in line at some of the busiest sites, including NRG Arena and the Multi-Service Center on West Gray Street, by the time polls opened at 7 a.m.

It look less than seven hours for Harris County to surpass its record of 68,000 in-person votes on the first day of early voting from the 2016 presidential election.

Some sites, such as the Houston Food Bank, which is operating an early voting site for the first time, did not have any lines shortly after polls opened.

At the multi-service center, a socially distanced line formed around the block, filled by voters who had lined up well before 7 a.m.

“I’ve never seen it like this,” said Hannah McCauley, a voter who said she never misses an election. “If I have to wait, I have to wait.”

Tijuana Jones, 49, was in line an hour before the polls opened and still was facing about a 30-minute wait by 7:45 a.m.

“It is time,” Jones said. She was ready to vote against President Donald Trump, she said, no matter how long the line.

I heard on Facebook and Twitter from a lot of folks who needed more than an hour to cast their ballot. Normally that’s a bad thing, because no one should have to wait that long, but remember: This was Day One, there are 17 more days on which to vote, there will be some round-the-clock locations later in the period, and there were 112 locations, spread all around the county. I mean, if you’re going to West Gray to vote, you know what you’re in for.

This is a different matter:

In Fort Bend County, an election system glitch caused frustration and delays, apparently the result of election officials setting computers for next week instead of Tuesday, according to District Attorney Brian Middleton. As a result, the county’s election system was down countywide and hundreds of people were left waiting in line.

“It’s just inexcusable,” said Middleton, outside of the Smart Financial Centre. “Certain things just should not happen.”

Middleton said his office would investigate the incident. Fort Bend County Judge KP George also promised to take action.

“Those who are responsible, we will do something about it and make sure it won’t happen again,” George said.

State Rep. Ron Reynolds, a Missouri City Democrat who gathered with other elected officials outside the Smart Financial Centre voting location in Sugar Land, said he received complaints from residents about the voting delays.

“The computers aren’t working because the county officials that were responsible for making sure that they could vote (at) the appropriate time didn’t think enough of the voters to correctly set the machines,” said Reynolds. “I find that very irresponsible. I think that it is derelict of their duties. You could say it’s a form of voter suppression. It really disturbs me.”

Voting machines went down again at Smart Financial Centre and three other locations around 10:30 a.m. because of technical issues, according to Middleton.

However, 26 other polling locations were operating across the county.

Voting hours were extended for the rest of the first week in Fort Bend to make up for this. Juanita has some sharp words for the county’s elections administrator, who was hired by the previous administration, so we can surmise who “those who are responsible” may be.

I’ll be staying on top of the data as we go. Did you vote yesterday? If not, when are you planning to vote?

We need a better word than “controversial”

From the Chron: Meet Al Hartman, the controversial Houston CEO who is suing Hidalgo, Abbott over COVID orders.

Al Hartman is not shy about his beliefs.

As a guest on a Christian radio show, he spoke about a faith so strong that he heads to a mall after Sunday services to proselytize among the shoppers. He once handed out “Make America Great Again” hats to employees during an outing sponsored by his commercial real estate company. He is an active member and generous contributor to conservative groups, candidates and causes.

The latest cause for Hartman, the founder and CEO of Houston-based Hartman Income REIT Management, is masks, recently joining a suit against Harris County’s top elected executive, Lina Hidalgo, for ordering businesses to require employees and visitors to wear masks. This was two months after joining a suit brought by conservative activists against Gov. Greg Abbott over shutdown orders.

In August, he was further thrust into the public eye when the website Buzzfeed reported — and the company confirmed — that an employee was asked to leave a meeting by Hartman for refusing to take off his mask. The meeting, according to Mark Torok, Hartman’s general counsel, took place before the government recommended that everyone wear masks.

Hartman and his company, which owns directly or through affiliates some 60 buildings across Texas, present another example of how politics and ideology are shaping the response to the coronavirus pandemic, which has killed more than 200,000 people in the United States and at least 16,000 in Texas. Hartman’s company has not required employees to wear masks, and, until a few weeks ago, signs posted throughout the company’s buildings stated tenants and visitors were not required to wear them, either.

Hartman declined to be interviewed. But by the end of the summer, his workers were falling ill from COVID-19, as first reported by Buzzfeed. Torok confirmed that at least two employees who work in the 43-person corporate office at 2909 Hillcroft Ave. tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

Employees practice social distancing and handwashing, Torok added. Many do wear masks.

I’m going to be concise here.

1. If your “freedom” or your “beliefs” rest on the need for other people to be harmed, then your freedom is a sham and your beliefs are bad, and neither the legal nor political system should accommodate you.

2. Along those lines, and as someone who was raised in a Christian faith, I do not understand this version of “Christianity” that regularly advocates for the harm of other people. I’m pretty sure that’s not what Jesus was teaching.

3. As noted in the title of this post, we need a better word for our newspaper headlines than “controversial” to describe people like Al Hartman. “Nihilistic” would seem to me to be a better fit, but I’m open to other ideas.

2020 early voting starts today

From the inbox:

The Early Voting period for the November 2020 General Election begins tomorrow, Tuesday, October 13th, and continues through Friday, October 30th. This is the longest Early Voting period in Texas history, and voters who are not eligible to vote by mail are encouraged to vote early to avoid long lines and crowds on Election Day. The Harris County Clerk’s Office has provided more voter access than ever before, tripling the number of Early Voting Centers from just over 40 in 2016 to 122 this November. Visit http://www.HarrisVotes.com/Locations to find your nearest voting center, along with approximate wait times at voting centers across Harris County.

“My number one priority is keep voters and election workers safe this November,” said Harris County Clerk Chris Hollins. “We know that voting by mail is the safest and most convenient way to vote, but for the thousands of Harris County residents that are not eligible, we’ve provided more opportunities to vote and stay safe than ever before in Texas history. We’ve worked hard to provide a safe in-person voting experience and give voters more choices in how they cast their ballot — from larger, safer locations to voting from the comfort and safety of your vehicle. I encourage everyone to make your plan to vote and to take advantage of the Early Voting period to cast your ballot safely this fall.”

VOTING METHODS

KEY DATES

  • Tuesday, October 13: First day of Early Voting
  • Friday, October 23: Last day to apply to vote by mail
  • Tuesday, October 27 – Thursday, October 29: Extended Early voting hours to 10 pm
  • Thursday, October 29: 24 hour voting at eight (8) locations
  • Friday, October 30: Last day of Early Voting
  • Tuesday, November 3: Election Day

For more information, please visit HarrisVotes.com and follow @HarrisVotes on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

As a matter of historical pattern, today is likely to be very heavy, and the two or three days before the end of early voting are also very heavy, with the last day usually swamping the rest. Keep that in mind if you want to vote in person and minimize your exposure to crowds. If you have a flexible schedule, vote in the later morning – say, between 9 and 11 – or mid-afternoon – say, between 2 and 4 – to avoid the rush hour and lunchtime folks. Look to see how busy your location is, and choose another if it looks less crowded. We can all do a little something to avoid and minimize risk.

And while the courts will likely not do anything to stop Greg Abbott’s vote-suppresing order to close mail ballot dropoff locations, you can still drop yours off at Reliant Arena, or just put it in the mail as people have always done. Just do it quickly, don’t wait on it, and track its progress. If you have requested a mail ballot and for some reason have not received it, and you cannot vote in person (I have a friend who asked about this for her son at college), by all means call the County Clerk’s office and have them check it out. They should be able to send you another one ASAP if the first one didn’t get sent or got lost.

At this point I would say if you’ve been going to the grocery store or getting takeout, you can and probably should vote in person, picking a good place and time as noted above. But do make a plan, because turnout is gonna be lit.

Harris County election officials are preparing for a record number of voters to cast their ballots before Election Day, a process that will ramp up across Texas on Tuesday as early voting begins for the November general election.

County Clerk Chris Hollins, the elections administrator for the state’s largest county, said he expects as many as 1.7 million Harris County voters to turn out, a total that would shatter the record 1.3 million votes from 2016. Political analysts and elections officials are projecting an unusually large share of the votes will come during the early voting period, which Gov. Greg Abbott extended by six days, and through the mail as voters look to avoid contracting COVID-19 at crowded Election Day polling sites.

“It’s very likely that you’re looking at close to about three-quarters of all the vote being in before Election Day, which is a dramatic turnaround from what we’ve had just a few years ago,” said Jay Aiyer, an assistant county attorney working on elections at the Harris County Attorney’s Office. “It’s better to think of the election process as less about Election Day and Nov. 3 and really more about ‘election weeks.’”

I should note that 74% of the vote in 2016 was early or by mail, and 71% was early or by mail in 2018. So this is in line with recent elections, though with likely much higher numbers this time around.

Hollins had mailed out 235,000 ballots by this past weekend, his office announced, more than doubling the total from 2016. He had anticipated sending out roughly 10 times that amount to all 2.4 million registered voters in Harris County, but Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stopped the effort through a legal challenge.

The clerk’s office had received 22,000 completed mail ballots by the weekend, while another 13,250 voters had dropped off their ballots in person at NRG Arena through Friday.

Driving part of the expected turnout increase is the steady growth of Harris County’s voter rolls. The county has added nearly 234,000 registered voters since 2016, far more than the 143,000 new residents added during the same span.

I’ll be tracking everything as usual. Now get out there and vote!

Endorsement watch: Judicial races

The Chron endorses two Dem challengers and one Republican incumbent for the Court of Criminal Appeals.

Judge Tina Clinton

A court’s legitimacy derives in part from its capacity to inspire trust in the minds of those who live by its rulings. “There cannot be a trust among the African American community that the system is fair when the judges dispensing that justice are all represented by just one group,” Judge Tina Yoo Clinton, a Dallas County district court judge whom we recommend for Place 4, said last month at a virtual forum organized by the Innocence Project of Texas. She was noting that there are currently no Black justices on the court, and just one of nine members is Latino.

It’s a valid point, but it’s also true that in the context of the Court of Criminal Appeals, diversity must also include a broader range of ideological perspective and of life experience. That’s because how a judge sees the law — and how he or she applies it to a particular case — is far more complex than sound bites about “activist judges” or labels such as conservative and liberal.

[…]

Place 4, Tina Yoo Clinton (D)
Tina Yoo Clinton, 50, has more than 14 years experience as a judge and 10 more as a prosecutor. She brings a combination of a veteran judge’s experience and the enthusiasm and fresh perspective of a newcomer. It’s exactly the mix the court needs.

For that reason, we recommend her over Justice Kevin Yeary, who has been on the court since 2014.

“Clearly when you look at what is going on in the United States within the criminal justice system, we have to recognize that even though we want justice to be colorblind, it is not colorblind,” Clinton said during last month’s candidate forum.

That’s a starting point that will help shape the discussions among the nine justices in ways that keep fairness at the center of the debate. Matched with her long experience and commitment to follow the law, we believe she will help render justice in which all Texans can have faith.

Place 9, Brandon Birmingham (D)
We recommend voters elect Dallas County criminal district court Judge Brandon Birmingham, 43, in Place 9, even at the high cost of losing Justice David Newell, whose voice on questions of actual innocence has been reasoned and refreshing.

But he adheres to the court’s overall emphasis on textualism, and approaches each case within a narrower view of what justice requires than would his opponent. The court’s nine members urgently need new perspectives, new sets of life experiences, and new vantage points from which to see the law and the facts in order to render decisions that have credibility with an increasingly skeptical public.

Birmingham would stretch the boundaries of that debate — and would do so using experience as a judge, a prosecutor and a change agent.

They also endorsed Justice Bert Richardson, who I will agree is a good judge, over challenger Elizabeth Frizell. At least here, the Chron did more than just nod in the direction of increasing the diversity of this court, as they did with the Supreme Court.

In the other judicial races, the Chron endorsed all four Republican incumbents on the First and Fourteenth Courts of Appeals, and five Dems and five Republicans (plus one abstention) for the district courts. I’m just going to say this: If there’s one thing we should take away from the Merrick Garland/Neil Gorsuch and Amy Coney Barrett experiences, it’s that the judiciary is to Republicans (with a huge push from the professional conservative movement) nothing but an expression of political power. Gorsuch was given, and Barrett almost certainly will be given, a lifetime tenure on the US Supreme Court, where they will consistently rule in favor of Republican and conservative positions, because the Republican-held Senate had the power to block Garland and install the other two.

Here in Texas, where we elect judges as part of the regular electoral process, there has been a call to move away from partisan elections of judges and towards some other, as yet undefined system, which may involve appointments or bipartisan panels or who knows what else. This push has emerged and grown as Democrats have begun to assert more political power in Texas – I’ve been documenting it since 2008, when we elected Democratic judges for the first time since the early nineties. What the voters want is more Democratic judges, and so it has become Very Important for the Republicans that still retain full power in this state to make sure they don’t get them.

As a matter of abstract principle, I would agree that we could do a better job picking judges than the current system we have, where judges are voted on by people who mostly have no idea who they are and what they do. I’m sure if we put a few sober and learned types in a room for a few hours, they would emerge with a perfectly fine system for selecting judges on pure merit. But we’ve had this imperfect system for a long time, and when it benefitted the Republicans it was just fine. It certainly benefits them right now, when questions about voting rights are being litigated. If more Democratic judges get elected this cycle, I consider that just to be some balance on the scales. When we get to a point of having solid Democratic majorities on the Supreme Court and the CCA, and there’s a Democratic Governor and Lt. Governor and Democratic majorities in the House and Senate, then come back with a fully-formed plan for non-partisan meritocratic judicial selections, and we can talk. Until then, I say elect more Democrats, including and especially Democratic judges. Politics has been a key part of this process from the beginning. The fact that the politics are slowly starting to favor the Democrats is not a compelling reason to change that. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Judge briefly halts Abbott’s order limiting mail ballot dropoff locations

Late Friday breaking news, which lasted until the early afternoon on Saturday.

A federal judge ruled Friday that Texas counties can have multiple drop-off locations for absentee ballots heading into the Nov. 3 general election, blocking the enforcement of Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent order that sought to limit counties to just one such location.

Saying Abbott’s order confused voters and restricted voter access, U.S. District Judge Robert Pitman granted an injunction late Friday barring its enforcement. With an unprecedented number of Texas voters requesting mail-in ballots during the coronavirus pandemic, and concerns about the reliability of the U.S. Postal Service, some large, Democratic counties had set up numerous locations to accept the ballots before Abbott’s order.

“By limiting ballot return centers to one per county,” Pitman wrote, “older and disabled voters living in Texas’s largest and most populous counties must travel further distances to more crowded ballot return centers where they would be at an increased risk of being infected by the coronavirus in order to exercise their right to vote and have it counted.”

[…]

The Texas Democratic Party called Friday’s ruling a “common sense order [that] followed well-established law and stopped the governor from making up election rules after the election started.”

Before Friday’s ruling, Democrats had denounced Abbott’s order, labeling it voter suppression in a state that has repeatedly been knocked in federal court for intentionally discriminating against voters of color. Voting rights advocates and civic groups quickly sued Abbott in federal court, arguing the order was based on invalid security concerns and places an unconstitutional and unequal burden on the right to vote.

The Texas and national League of United Latin American Citizens, the League of Women Voters of Texas and two Texas voters filed suit the night of Abbott’s order, and another lawsuit was filed the next day by the Texas Alliance for Retired Americans, the get-out-the-vote group Bigtent Creative and a 65-year-old voter.

“Cutting these mail-in voting locations was wrong and done solely to attempt to steal the election from the rising Texas electorate,” said Gilberto Hinojosa, chair of the Texas Democratic Party. “A county, like Harris County, with more than 4.7 million Texans should have more than one hand delivery location. Limiting counties like Harris is a desperate Republican attempt to hold onto power.”

See here for the previous update, and here for a copy of the ruling. Looking at the plaintiffs, it appears that the first lawsuit and the second lawsuit were combined. That leaves one other federal lawsuit, plus the one state lawsuit for which there is a hearing next week.

One presumes this will be appealed, and as we all know the Fifth Circuit is where all good things go to die. I think there’s a strong argument to be made that allowing Abbott’s order, which was made more than two months after counties had begun making plans to have multiple dropoff locations and after the state Solicitor General filed a brief saying that state law allowed for this, is the thing that would improperly disrupt the election at this late date. I also think the Fifth Circuit can rise to the occasion of brushing such an objection aside. Travis County, one of the places that had multiple dropoff locations in place prior to the order, has said it will wait to see what the Fifth Circuit does before reopening them. It’s hard to fault them for that. The Chron and the Statesman have more.

UPDATE: As expected, Paxton has filed an emergency motion for a stay of the judge’s ruling. You can read that here. The smart money always says that he gets what he asks for from this court, so it’s a matter of how quickly they have a hearing and issue a ruling.

UPDATE: Faster than you can say “Anything you want, Kenny”, the Fifth Circuit grants Paxton’s motion. Now we wait for a hearing. See why Travis County decided to wait before reopening any of those dropoff locations? Here’s the Chron story about the granting of the stay.

Military ballots

When we talk about the deadline to print and send out mail ballots, we are specifically talking about ballots sent to active duty military personnel, which by federal law are to be sent out 45 days before Election Day to facilitate them being returned in a timely fashion.

The very people risking their lives to defend the nation are among those most likely to have their ballots left uncounted in the presidential election in November.

When nearly 1 million absentee ballots are sent to military and overseas Americans worldwide by Saturday — kicking off voting for the 2020 election — history shows many will never be returned in time, and a greater percentage will be rejected compared to the rest of the population.

“There’s just a high percentage of ballots that just don’t make it back in time,” said Texas State University’s Don Inbody, an expert on the history of military voting and author of The Soldier Vote. “They’re active duty military. They’re usually pretty busy so they are not going to be quite as efficient as you’d like them to be in getting their ballots back.”

That looms particularly large this year, as polls show military voters are more divided than ever on the presidential election and that they could have an impact on close races in states such as Texas, North Carolina and Florida.

[…]

Federal data shows that members of the military are less likely to vote than the civilian population. In 2018, only 26 percent of military members voted compared to 52 percent of the rest of the population. In that election, nearly half of all ballots sent out to military and overseas voters who requested them were never returned. And of those that were returned, nearly 6 percent were rejected by elections officials for various reasons according to a report from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

Nationwide, about 1 percent of absentee ballots are rejected among the civilian population.

The biggest reasons for ballots being tossed out include them not being returned in time, problems with the voter’s signature and missing postmarks.

During the last presidential election in 2016, Texas elections officials sent out almost 30,000 ballots to uniformed military and their dependents stationed around the nation and worldwide. But just 60 percent were returned, one of the worst rates in the nation. Nationwide military voters returned ballots nearly 70 percent of the time in that presidential election, according to the Election Assistance Commission.

There’s more in the story, so go check it out. Military personnel who cast votes via absentee ballots in Texas can check their ballot status here.

Something I learned when I looked at the vote rosters from the primary runoffs is that military and overseas ballots are coded differently in that file than “regular” mail ballots are. By law, these ballots are counted if they are received up to five days after Election Day, as long as they were mailed by Election Day. That’s only true for military and overseas ballots. For the primary runoffs in Harris County, the number of these ballots was quite small, like 20 or so; I’d have to go back and look again to get an exact number, but it was in that neighborhood. Each ballot matters and we should make every reasonable effort to ensure that these ballots are received and returned and counted, but if the result in Texas comes down to these ballots then the race was super close to begin with.