Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Isabel Longoria

The voting location restrictions of SB7

As Michael Li said on Twitter, this is breathtaking, and not at all in a good way.

The number of Election Day polling places in largely Democratic parts of major Texas counties would fall dramatically under a Republican proposal to change how Texas polling sites are distributed, a Texas Tribune analysis shows. Voting options would be curtailed most in areas with higher shares of voters of color.

Relocating polling sites is part of the GOP’s priority voting bill — Senate Bill 7 — as it was passed in the Texas Senate. It would create a new formula for setting polling places in the handful of mostly Democratic counties with a population of 1 million or more. Although the provision was removed from the bill when passed in the House, it remains on the table as a conference committee of lawmakers begins hammering out a final version of the bill behind closed doors.

Under that provision, counties would be required to distribute polling places based on the share of registered voters in each state House district within the county. The formula would apply only to the state’s five largest counties — Harris, Dallas, Tarrant, Bexar and Travis — and possibly Collin County once new census figures are released later this year.

A comparison of the Election Day polling locations that were used for the 2020 general election and what would happen under the Senate proposal shows a starkly different distribution of polling sites in Harris and Tarrant counties that would heavily favor voters living in Republican areas.

In Harris County — home to Houston, the state’s biggest city — the formula would mean fewer polling places in 13 of the 24 districts contained in the county, all currently represented by Democrats. Every district held by a Republican would either see a gain in polling places or see no change.

Take a moment and let that sink in, and then go to the story to look at the table. Thirteen Democratic districts would lose a total of 73 voting locations (two others, HDs 135 and 149, would add thirteen), while seven Republican districts would add 59 locations (HDs 128 and 129 would have no change). It doesn’t get any more blatant than this.

For election administrators in the targeted counties, the forced redistribution of polling places would come shortly after most of them ditched Election Day precinct-based voting and began allowing voters to cast ballots at any polling place in a county. Many Texas counties have operated under that model, known as countywide voting, for years, but it has been taken up most recently by both blue urban metros and Republican-leaning suburbs.

“It was unexpected to find language that ties voting locations to where you live exactly in the [same section of state] code that says you can vote wherever,” said Heider Garcia, the elections administrator for Tarrant County, which made the switch to countywide voting in 2019.

While SB 7 targets the state’s biggest counties that use countywide voting, the more than 60 other Texas counties that offer it — many rural and under Republican control — would remain under the state’s more relaxed rules for polling place distribution.

In urban areas, a formula based on voter registration will inherently sway polling places toward Republican-held districts. House districts are drawn to be close to equal in total population, not registration or voter eligibility. Registration numbers are generally much lower in districts represented by Democrats because they tend to have a larger share of residents of color, particularly Hispanic residents — and in some areas Asian residents — who may not be of voting age or citizens. That often results in a smaller population of eligible voters.

But in selecting voting sites, counties generally mull various factors beyond voter registration. They consider details like proximity to public transportation, past voter turnout, areas where voters may be more likely to vote by mail instead of in person and accessibility for voters with disabilities. In urban areas in particular, election officials also look to sites along thoroughfares that see high traffic to make polling places more convenient. Some of the Republican districts that would gain polling places under the proposed formula are situated toward the outskirts of a county or along the county line, while the Democratic seats losing voting sites are closer to the urban core.

“It’s much more than throwing darts at a board,” said Isabel Longoria, the Harris County election administrator. “There’s a lot of parameters that go into choosing a location. It’s not based on partisanship or what House district you’re in but really what will provide access to voters historically, socially, culturally, transportation-wise and everything in between.”

Counties like Harris must also confront historic and racist underdevelopment in communities that are home to large populations of people of color, particularly historic Black communities. In some suburban areas, Longoria posited, the county will be able to use a large high school gymnasium or community center where it can set up 20 to 30 voting machines, but in a historically Black neighborhood, they may need two smaller locations.

Emphasis mine. Again: couldn’t be more blatant. This is exactly the sort of thing that the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act would have stopped, because it would have had to be reviewed before it could be implemented. Bill author Sen. Bryan Hughes claims that this is just about ensuring that partisan election officials in these counties can’t favor some voters over others, but when the end result is this ludicrously tilted in a partisan direction, it’s impossible to take that seriously.

As noted in the story, SB7 was greatly changed in the House and is now in conference committee, where no one really knows what will emerge. It’s hard for me to imagine that anyone with sufficient influence in that committee will advocate for leaving this provision on the cutting room floor, but we won’t know until they emerge with a finished product. And once the bill, in whatever form, becomes law, the litigation will begin.

Meet your new voting machines

Long time coming.

Harris County’s new voting machine, which county leaders showed off on Wednesday, incorporates old and new technology the county election administrator says will make voting easier and boost public confidence in elections.

The Hart InterCivic Verity Duo, the county’s new model, has a touch screen interface that allows users to quickly make selections. It also produces a paper ballot which voters can ensure accurately marked their choices before submitting it into a scanner.

“I am ecstatic about the new machines,” Harris County Election Administrator Isabel Longoria said. “The touch screen process, the accessibility features, the paper ballot so that people can make sure the selections they made are the ones that are counted — this is all phenomenal for Houston.”

[…]

The Verity Duo stores a voter’s ballot in three separate locations, Longoria said: on two separate hard drives inside the machines and also on the paper ballot that is scanned. The hard copy ballots are kept for 22 months, in case a manual election audit is needed. The paper ballots are printed in English rather than a bar code, which allows humans and computers to read the same document, Hart Senior Vice President Peter Litchenheld said.

The machines are enabled to perform in the county’s four ballot languages — English, Spanish, Vietnamese and Mandarin — and also offer large text sizes for visually impaired voters.

The Harris County Election Administration Office is debuting the new machines in the May joint election. November will be the first countywide election in which they will be used.

See here for the previous update. There’s a video in the story showing how the new machine is used. I think people in general will find the touchscreen interface to be easier and more intuitive to use, but I agree with Campos that the Elections office should do as much public outreach about these new machines as they can. We all know that if it’s this year or 2024, some number of people are going to show up and have no idea that there are new machines and won’t know what to do with them. The best we can do is try to minimize that number. Houston Public Media has more.

Commissioners Court approves funds for new voting machines

Long awaited.

Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously approved a $54 million deal to replace the current eSlate machines with ones featuring touch screens, a paper backup and features that make voting more accessible for seniors and residents with disabilities.

The new machines allow voters to select candidates or ballots measures on a touchpad instead of the rotating wheel, now derided by critics as a clunky feature that some voters mistakenly have used to cast ballots for the wrong candidate.

After voters complete and review their ballots, the machines will print out the selections, at which point voters again can review their ballots for any erroneous choices. They then will take the printed ballots to an electronic ballot box that will record the votes and store the paper ballots, in case the election is called into question and needs to be audited.

“Really, the utility of the paper record is, instead of having to program our machines to spit out receipts, we are getting the record as the voter sees it, into a ballot box that, should we need to count or recount or pull something back later, we can pull it up,” Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said Wednesday.

The election results will be stored on two separate hard drives for each voting machine, one of which can only be accessed with a special key provided to Longoria’s office. The new safeguards are expected to provide stronger security than the current system, in which votes are recorded on mobile memory cards that are brought to a central counting site, uploaded onto a computer and tallied.

Longoria also said the new machines may provide faster election results, as votes can only be tallied under the current system using an outdated computer processing software with slower processing speeds than what is widely available today. Harris County election nights have famously stretched well past midnight during previous elections due to the pace of the election results being uploaded.

[…]

Under the contract approved Tuesday, Hart will provide Harris County with 12,000 machines and an assortment of other election equipment, including voting booths and ballot boxes.

Among the other upgrades are what officials say will be a more robust voting system for residents with disabilities. Longoria described the existing setup as “primitive,” in which voters use red and green “paddles,” or buttons, that replace the scrolling wheel and enter button.

“Now you’ll have, essentially, a remote control attached to the machine that has directional arrows and multiple buttons, so that folks with a different kind of physical need will have the same access to voting,” Longoria said.

The elections administrator’s office will receive the first shipment of devices by March 1. Longoria and her staff will start familiarizing themselves with the machines and decide whether to use them for the May 2021 local elections. If they opt to wait, the machines would be in place for the March 2022 primaries.

“The really big deciding factor for me is, how long will it take to train all of our internal staff on these new machines to feel comfortable with them? And then the turnaround time for us to develop those training materials so that we can really safely and fairly train up the different clerks and judges that will have to use these on Election Day,” Longoria said.

See here for my previous update on this topic, here for a Twitter thread from the Election Administrator’s office, and here for their press release. I asked Isabel Longoria some questions about this when I interviewed her, but she was not yet in a position to discuss the details. From what we’ve seen, it sounds like the new machines have everything we’ve been wanting, and it all sounds pretty good to me. Other counties such a Tarrant use the same machines, so we can learn from their experience. It would be nice to have them in place for the May elections, but given that 2021 is an off year for the city, November will be a low-turnout affair that can serve as a test run as well. Either way, I’m looking forward to seeing what our new machines can do.

Do we still have to worry about the Elections Administrator’s office?

I’m a little hesitant to bring this up, but…

Isabel Longoria

This year, Harris County began the process of consolidating the two offices that have historically handled elections — the county clerk and the tax assessor-collector’s office — under one roof.

Isabel Longoria, a special advisor on voting rights to the county clerk, was sworn in to lead the new office last month.

“Fundamentally the office is shifting from being reactive to proactive,” Longoria told the Signal. “Under the tax office and county clerk offices, since elections and voter registration were just one part of what they did, it was always kind of like, ‘oh shit elections are coming, now what’ or ‘oh shit, we’ve got to register voters, now what’ — now we have the capacity to say that this is our focus year-round.”

Harris County voters are already benefiting from some new practices, some they can see and some they can’t. Election results in the county are now updating every thirty minutes, and behind the scenes, election officials are working more closely together. For example, Longoria said the heads of both the voter registration and elections department were in the same room at NRG on election day.

[…]

Earlier this month, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton sent a letter to Harris County informing them that Longoria’s newly created office did not exist. Paxton argued that the county violated Texas election code by creating the office without the proper timing and without appropriately informing the Texas Secretary of State. He gave the county two weeks to take “corrective action” before his office would intervene.

Harris County Commissioners Court was unmoved by the threat, the county attorney replied to Paxton detailing the paperwork, and nothing has come of it since. And business as usual has continued at the elections administrator’s office, Longoria said.

“I think he just wanted to make sure we filed our paperwork, and we did,” Longoria said. “That’s it. It’s one of those things where… yeah… nothing happened.”

That story was published on December 14, right after the District B runoff, which was the first election fully administered by the new office. It was also two weeks after Ken Paxton’s temper tantrum about the slow notification of the office’s creation and the appointment of Longoria as the chief. It’s now been four weeks since Paxton raised the possibility of taking Harris County to court if they didn’t take “corrective action” within two weeks. I guess Vince Ryan’s email to Paxton settled the matter, which suggests that maybe Paxton was making a much bigger deal over a minor boo-boo than he needed to make. Of course, he’s been a pretty busy man since then, what with being raided by the FBI and trying to overturn the election and all, so maybe he just hasn’t gotten back around to this. Sometimes these things just take longer than you think they will, you know?

Commissioners Court rejects Paxton allegation about Elections Administrator

Straight to the point.

Best mugshot ever

The Democrats on Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday rejected an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton in which he said they illegally created an independent elections office and hired an administrator.

The move invites a potential lawsuit from the attorney general, which Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis said he was confident the county would win.

“This is another example of (Attorney) General Paxton using his office to attack the voting rights of Texans,” Ellis said.

He noted that Paxton sued to prevent counties from installing more than one drop box for mail-in ballots during this fall’s general election. The attorney general also convinced the Texas Supreme Court to block Harris County’s plan to send mail ballot applications to all 2.5 million registered voters. Paxton also had issued an opinion suggesting the county’s drive-thru voting arrangements violated the state election code.

[…]

In a written response to Paxton Tuesday, [County Attorney Vince] Ryan acknowledged that Harris County had not promptly informed the state of those actions. He said, however, that Texas law says the delays do not change their validity.

Harris County joined more than 100 other Texas counties in creating an independent elections office, which combines the election management role of the county clerk with the voter registration duties of the tax assessor-collector.

The three Democrats on Commissioners Court voted in favor of the change, arguing it is more efficient. The two Republicans were opposed, saying it created an administrator who is unaccountable to voters.

The court was similarly divided in Tuesday afternoon’s discussion. Democratic County Judge Lina Hidalgo dismissed Paxton’s threat as a distraction and said Longoria must be able to do her job.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Jack Cagle, a Republican, said Ellis’s criticism of Paxton was unfounded. The attorney general has a duty to ensure the law is followed, he said.

“When Paxton says we didn’t follow the rules, I don’t think there is some evil intent,” Cagle said.

See here for the background, and let’s put aside for the moment the laughable idea that Ken Paxton has any moral authority when it comes to telling people to obey the rules. I dismissed Paxton’s threats as mere bluster, but I’m an Internet smartass. There are no real consequences when I’m wrong about something. I certainly hope Vince Ryan is right about this – and as a side matter, I hope incoming County Attorney Christian Menefee was consulted and is on board with this, because it will be his mess to clean up if Ryan and the rest of us are wrong. I guess we’ll find out soon enough if we’re about to be dragged into a prolonged court battle, or if this was indeed just hot air. The Texas Signal and the Chron’s Erica Greider have more.

Interview with Isabel Longoria

Isabel Longoria

Following on to my interview with Chris Hollins, today I have for you a conversation with our brand new and first-ever Election Administrator in Harris County, Isabel Longoria. Longoria is a former legislative staffer who ran for City Council in District H in 2019 and lost in a runoff to incumbent CM Karla Cisneros. She was hired by Hollins to be part of the County Clerk’s election staff for the 2020 election, so when she stepped into the Administrator role it was mostly a continuation of what she had already been doing. If you’ve ever talked with Longoria before, you know she’s a highly detail-oriented person who can go deep into the weeds on policy and technical issues, and she has an abiding love for the elections process. We talked about all that and more:

We enter now into a fallow period for local elections – it’s an off year for Houston, and who knows what will happen with the HISD Trustees. I’ll do what I do with the races that are on the docket, but in the meantime if you think there’s someone I really ought to talk to and whose insights would be of interest to you and my other readers, let me know.

Paxton has a tantrum about the Harris County Election Administrator

Someone is going to have to help me understand this, because I’m clearly missing something.

Best mugshot ever

Harris County failed to follow the Texas Election Code when it created an independent election administration office, rendering the office and the appointment of Isabel Longoria as administrator null and void, according to Attorney General Ken Paxton.

In a Nov. 25 letter to the county attorney’s office, Paxton said Harris County did not inform the secretary of state in a timely fashion, as required by law, when it created the new office in July and when an administrator was selected in October to run it.

“As a result, neither the Commissioners Court’s July 14, 2020 order nor the Election Commission’s October 30, 2020 appointment of (Isabel) Longoria to the position holds any legal weight,” Paxton wrote. “In short, the Harris County Office of Election Administrator does not exist.”

Longoria’s appointment should be rescinded, the attorney general said.

County Clerk Teneshia Hudspeth referred questions to County Judge Lina Hidalgo, who deferred to the County Attorney’s office. First Assistant County Attorney Robert Soard said all required documentation regarding the election administration office has been sent to the secretary of state.

“We feel confident that, after they review this, all misunderstandings will be cleared up,” Soard said.

Longoria said in a statement that the county attorney had advised her there were no procedural issues with the creation of her office; she will continue working.

[…]

The Election Code requires counties to inform the secretary of state within three days of creating an elections administration office. Within six days, it must inform the state of the appointment of an administrator.

Paxton said Harris County waited two weeks to inform the secretary of state it had created the elections administration office and three weeks to formally disclose the hiring of Longoria as administrator, a senior aide in the County Clerk’s Office.

Harris County must take “corrective action” within 14 days, the attorney general said, or the state may take the issue to court. Paxton did not respond to a question asking why his office did not address Harris County’s error in July.

County Attorney Vince Ryan placed an item on Tuesday’s Commissioners Court agenda to discuss the matter.

Here’s the relevant statutes relating to an Elections Administrator:

Sec. 31.031. CREATION OF POSITION. (a) The commissioners court by written order may create the position of county elections administrator for the county.

(b) The order must state the date the creation of the position of administrator is effective. The effective date may not be later than 12 months after the date the order is adopted.

(c) To facilitate the orderly transfer of duties on the effective date, the order may authorize the commissioners court to employ the administrator-designate not earlier than the 90th day before the effective date of the creation of the position, at a salary not to exceed that to be paid to the administrator.

(d) Not later than the third day after the date the order is adopted, the county clerk shall deliver a certified copy of the order to:

(1) the secretary of state; and

(2) each member of the county election commission.

Sec. 31.032. APPOINTMENT OF ADMINISTRATOR; COUNTY ELECTION COMMISSION. (a) The position of county elections administrator is filled by appointment of the county election commission, which consists of:

(1) the county judge, as chair;

(2) the county clerk, as vice chair;

(3) the county tax assessor-collector, as secretary; and

(4) the county chair of each political party that made nominations by primary election for the last general election for state and county officers preceding the date of the meeting at which the appointment is made.

(b) The affirmative vote of a majority of the commission’s membership is necessary for the appointment of an administrator.

(c) Each appointment must be evidenced by a written resolution or order signed by the number of commission members necessary to make the appointment. Not later than the third day after the date an administrator is appointed, the officer who presided at the meeting shall file a signed copy of the resolution or order with the county clerk. Not later than the third day after the date the copy is filed, the county clerk shall deliver a certified copy of the resolution or order to the secretary of state.

(d) The initial appointment may be made at any time after the adoption of the order creating the position.

The relevant sections relating to timing are highlighted in bold. As was noted in the comments to the Chron story, there’s nothing in the laws to say what happens if a county, for whatever the reason, fails to do the paperwork in a timely fashion. Saying that the appointment is null and void for being a few days late is to be the equivalent of saying that because there were a couple of precincts in Wayne County that didn’t exactly balance we need to throw out every vote in the county. I may not be a lawyer, but I can tell when the remedy doesn’t fit the alleged infraction. And if we’re going to be super-technical about it, then let Commissioners Court rescind and re-appoint Longoria today, and notify the Secretary of State later in the day via email, fax, Fed Ex, town crier, and unfurling a giant poster with Isabel Longoria’s picture on it outside the SOS office tomorrow morning. Will that suffice?

This part puzzles me even more:

Republican State Sen. Paul Bettencourt, R-Houston, a frequent critic of local Democrats, urged Commissioners Court to revoke Longoria’s appointment.

“Appointing an administrator of elections in the nation’s third largest county should have been made by following the prescribed legal process to the letter,” Bettencourt said in a statement. “The attorney general’s letter is specific that the duties of that office should be returned to the elected county clerk and tax assessor-collector.”

The dispute is the latest in a series of disagreements between Texas leaders and Harris County officials over how the state’s largest county runs its elections. Paxton and state Elections Director Keith Ingram see their actions as reigning in rogue local leaders; Hidalgo and county officials view them as unnecessary micromanagement.

I mean, we’re aware that all of the election innovation that made Ken Paxton and Paul Bettencourt SO MAD last month was done by the County Clerk, right? Not a non-partisan official whose bosses include the Chair of the Harris County GOP? I’m trying real hard here, but I fail to see what they think they’d be gaining by putting Teneshia Hudspeth in charge of running elections. Do they think she wouldn’t keep doing what she did while Chris Hollins and Diane Trautman were in charge? Have they forgotten that she’s an elected Democrat? Seriously, what is their angle here? I mean, other than being little pettifoggers with a grievance. Like I said up front, someone help me understand this one.

By the way, we’re still counting votes here in Texas

In case you were wondering.

Harris County is still counting ballots, too, just like counties all across Texas. We’re not focused on that right now, because Texas went to President Donald Trump on election night. But more than 100 people are working around the clock inside NRG Arena, Harris County’s election headquarters.

Isabel Longoria, election administrator, walked us through what’s happening.

“Quite frankly, the process of democracy right now is about tedious accuracy,” that is being double-checked by a ballot board of made up of both Republicans and Democrats, Longoria said.

“A lot of it is just on a computer. So for the mail ballots, for example, you get a person’s signature from their application and the signature from the ballot and you have a Democrat and a Republican just saying, yes, yes, question. Yes, yes, question. And anything that’s questioned goes to a specialized team,” that will reach out to a specific voter to verify that all information on the ballot is correct, Longoria said.

“I can say our staff is running on fumes. We’ve been working 24/7,” Longoria said.

The whole process is being monitored by about a dozen poll watchers.

[…]

The Texas Election Code requires all 254 Texas counties certify their election results no later than 14 days after the election, or in this case, by Nov. 17.

What will happen is that the official canvass will be presented to Commissioners Court, at their November 17 meeting, and they will certify it at that time. Military and overseas ballots were still being received as of Monday, which was the deadline for that. There are no races at the county, state, or federal level in Harris County that are close enough for a recount, so once all the ballots are tallied, that will be that. The point is, ballots are still being counted right here in Texas. See this Twitter thread by the County Clerk for more.

A few words about election security

Lisa Gray talks to my friend Dan Wallach about everybody’s favorite subject.

If I’m aiming to steal an election, what’s the best way to go about it? Are mail-in ballots the easiest?

If your goal is to steal an election, there are so many different things you could do. Really the question is, are you trying to be stealthy about it? Or are you perfectly OK with making a giant public mess? Because if you don’t mind making a mess, the easiest way to steal an election is to break the voter registration system — to cause long lines, to cause voters to give up and walk away.

But it would be totally obvious if that had happened. And at least as far as we know, it hasn’t happened. The other obvious way that you can break an election is, of course, with misinformation. If you can convince the voters to vote in a way different than they were originally planning — because of a conspiracy theory or whatever — that’s also an excellent way of manipulating the outcome of an election.

Manipulating voting machines in the tabulation process is actually a lot more work, especially if you want to do it subtly. And at least so far, that doesn’t seem to be happening.

Are mail-in ballots inherently less reliable than votes counted on Election Day?

Once we have paper ballots, whether they’re paper ballots that are cast in person, or paper ballots that are returned through the mail, the security of that system is actually pretty good. I’m not as worried about ballot-box stuffing and things like that. The things that concern me more are when you have a system with no paper at all — which, of course, is how we vote here in Harris County.

This is probably the last year that Harris County will be using that electronic paperless voting system. We’ll see.

Probably the place where we’re seeing the most excitement with tight elections now is in Georgia. The state of Georgia used to use a paperless electronic system that would have been relatively straightforward to manipulate, if that was what you wanted to do.

But they’ve replaced it! The whole state of Georgia now votes using a “ballot marking device,” where you touch the screen, select your preferences, and then it prints a paper ballot. As long as Georgia voters actually bother to look at it, and say, “Yep, that’s who I was planning to vote for,” the risk of undetected tampering goes down significantly.

[…]

How should we handle future elections? Those eSlate machines have got to go. But what else, for American elections’ sake, do we need to do?

Let’s start with Harris County. Harris County is using a type of voting machine that they first purchased in the early 2000s. They had a warehouse fire in 2010, so all of our machines are actually quite a bit newer than that, because after the fire, they had to buy new ones.

Those are new versions of ancient tech? My adult kids voted for the first time in Harris County this year, and they were both astounded by what they called “1990s technology.” Those clunky dials! It’s like using a Blackberry in 2020.

It’s exactly like using a Blackberry in 2020. It’s time for these machines to be retired. Our previous county clerk Diane Trautman had said that that was her plan, and she’d started the process — vendors doing dog-and-pony shows, members of the community invited to show up and watch presentations. All of that was in process when COVID hit.

[Trautman resigned because of health problems, and Chris Hollins was an interim replacement.] Now we are going to have an appointed election administrator, Isabel Longoria, who handles voter registration and manages elections. So Longoria is going to be responsible for picking up where this all left off. I don’t know their timeline. I don’t know their plans. But definitely it’s time to move on from the eSlates.

I expect that they will be very interested in having a bigger vote-by-mail solution. The state may or may not make it easier for voters to vote by mail. That’s an unfortunately partisan process, even though it shouldn’t be. All Washington State, Oregon and Colorado vote by mail — 100% of the vote.

But Texas doesn’t believe in no-excuse vote by mail, so I expect that we’re also going to see new voting machines of some kind. Every new voting machine that’s worth buying prints a paper ballot of some sort. That is likely the direction that we’re headed.

There will be pricing issues and cost issues. There will be questions like, Does it support all of the languages that Harris County requires? Does the tabulation system do all the things that we need? Is the vendor going to give us a good price? All that is in play. This is as much about a large government procurement process as it is about voting in particular.

I expect that will all play out next year. They will announce a winner of the procurement, and then we’ll start seeing these new machines used in smaller elections, where there are fewer voters and there’s less attention being paid. In a smaller election, things can go wrong, and it won’t be the end of the world.

Most of this is familiar to us, from the swan song of the eSlate machines to the plans to get new voting machines for the 2021 elections, which will be an off year for city races, thus making it even smaller than usual. I’ll be keeping a close eye on what kind of machines we may get, as this will be the first major task of Isabel Longoria’s tenure as Election Administrator. Lisa and Dan also talk about the exemplary voting experience we had here in Harris County in 2020, which we all hope and expect will be the template going forward. Check it out.

Meet your new Election Administrator

Solid choice.

Isabel Longoria

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

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

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

District B runoff lawsuit hearing set

Let’s hope for a quick verdict.

Cynthia Bailey

The stalled runoff in Houston city council District B likely will have to wait until May, if not longer, leaving north Houston neighborhoods without a new representative for months after the council convenes in January.

The election has been mired in a lawsuit that county officials said forced them to pull the race from the Dec. 14 ballot, when the dozen other city runoffs were decided. It then also missed the deadline to make the Jan. 28 ballot, when the county was holding a special election for a vacant seat in the Texas House of Representatives.

While the lawsuit inched a bit closer to a resolution Friday, with set of a trial date on Jan. 24, county officials said the runoff could not be held on March 3, when a slew of primary contests will be decided. Texas law states that “no other election may be held on the date of a primary election.”

County officials said the next scheduled election would be May 2, when smaller cities and school districts typically hold municipal and board elections, though a judge could have discretion on whether to schedule a special election. Harris County Special Assistant Attorney Douglas Ray said the County Clerk’s office would need about seven weeks notice to conduct a special election.

[…]

Presiding Judge Susan Brown set the Jan. 24 trial date Friday and tapped former Harris County Judge Grant Dorfman to be the special judge on the case.

The appointment is required by state law, which calls for a special judge whose judicial district does not include any territory covered by the election and who does not live in the territory.

See here and here for the background. At this point, there are three possible outcomes:

1. A final ruling from a court. That doesn’t mean it has to go all the way to the Supreme Court, just that the higher courts refuse to hear an appeal. The ideal situation here is for this to happen in time for the May election. I don’t even want to think about how much longer this could get dragged out if there isn’t a final resolution by mid-March, which would be the legal deadline for this election to happen in May.

2. Renee Jefferson Smith quits pursuing the case. Maybe that happens after the district court rules, or maybe she just decides at some point it’s no longer worth it to her. The first possibility could happen, the second seems extremely unlikely.

3. Cynthia Bailey could choose to withdraw from the runoff and concede the election to Tarsha Jackson. In theory, if she did that today, Tarsha Jackson would be sworn in with the other Council members in January. I say “in theory” because Jefferson Smith could continue to litigate, with the claim that Bailey shouldn’t have been on the ballot at all, so either the whole election should be done over or there should be a Jackson-Jefferson Smith runoff for the seat. I don’t think that argument would get very far in a court, but she might be allowed to make it, in which case we’d still be on hold till that was resolved. I also think it’s highly unlikely that Bailey would throw in the towel – she’s come this far, she’s making a principled stand on a righteous position, she’s not the one holding everything up – but it’s a thing that could happen.

Add it up, and the the best case scenario is likely the May 2 election. Hope for the best, that’s all I can say.

Meanwhile, in other Council race news:

With that, the District H race is settled. Congratulations to Karla Cisneros for her victory, and my sincere thanks to Isabel Longoria for running a strong and engaging race.

UPDATE: Stace has more.

The female face of City Council

Houston City Council is majority female for the first time in over a decade.

Starting next year, a record nine women will serve on Houston City Council amid a shift toward a younger and more progressive council for Mayor Sylvester Turner’s second term.

The new council will include no more than two Hispanic and no Asian members, however, with Anglo council members holding at least eight seats and the other six represented by African-American members.

It remains unclear whether District I Councilmember Robert Gallegos, the lone Latino on City Council, will be joined by Isabel Longoria, who finished 12 votes behind incumbent Councilmember Karla Cisneros in the District H runoff, according to unofficial returns.

[…]

The nine total women on council edges the previous record of eight who were elected in 2005.

The council’s African-American representation also will expand from four to six.

Fun fact: That Council class of 2005 included Addie Wiseman and Shelley Sekula Gibbs. I don’t really have a point to make here, I’m just noting that because I remember things like that.

In other Council news:

Regardless of who wins the District H runoff, Latino council members will hold no more than two seats out of 16, in a city where Latinos make up 44.5 percent of the population, according to 2018 census data.

Part of that disparity comes from Latinos making up a smaller share of the electorate: Houston’s registered voters are 23 percent Latino, according to data from Hector De Leon, a former communications director for the Harris County Clerk’s Office who studies Houston-area voting patterns.

“African Americans and Anglos are roughly 45 percent of the population combined, but they constitute 85 percent of the total vote. And elections are determined by people who turn out and vote,” [Jay] Aiyer said.

Registration among young, Latino voters has increased “dramatically” in recent years, in part because of President Donald Trump and mobilization efforts by political groups, said Jeronimo Cortina, a political science professor at University of Houston.

Houston’s Latino voting blocs also have fewer options, he said, because of the city’s use of at-large positions, which are elected on citywide basis.

“The problem is that the minority votes are compacted in one part of the city so it makes it very hard for them to win an election,” Cortina said. “They get drowned, for lack of a better word, by the votes of the majority.”

To strengthen Latino representation on council and in other offices, [CM Robert] Gallegos said he intends to pitch the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce on the idea of starting a mentoring program to educate young Hispanics about pursuing careers in politics.

In the meantime, Gallegos said, “I’m going to do everything I can to make sure I represent the Hispanic community in the city of Houston, even though I’m a district council member.”

I take issue with what Professor Cortina says – I’m pretty sure a review of the Census tracts in Houston would prove his statement to be inaccurate. If nothing else, Sandra Rodriguez came close to winning District J, which is on the opposite end of the city from H and I. The situation isn’t great right now, but it’s not hopeless.

Be that as it may, let me put this out there for you: The three top Latinx vote-getters in At Large races were Yolanda Navarro Flores (At Large #1, 18.30% in Harris County), Emily Munoz deToto (At Large #2, 21.09%), and Jose Gonzalez (At Large #3, 19.24%). The three of them combined raised literally no money. There were five Latinx candidates in the two open seat At Large races (Cristel Bastida and Javier Gonzalez in #4, Ralph Garcia, Catherine Garcia Flowers, and Sonia Rivera in #5). None of them raised more than a trivial amount of money, though the three in At Large #5 combined for over 27% of the vote, enough to have led the field if they were one candidate.

My point here is that stronger Latinx candidates in the citywide races would also help. I don’t have much to say about Orlando Sanchez, but he came within six points of being elected Controller, and if there had been a third candidate in that race there likely would have been a runoff between him and incumbent Chris Brown, and who knows what might have happened in that race. The Latinx At Large candidates in 2019 didn’t amount to much, but at least they were running. In 2015, there was a grand total of two Latinx candidates in At Large races: Moe Rivera in #2, and Roy Morales in #4, who squeaked into the runoff where he got crushed by Amanda Edwards. I feel like I’ve been saying this since Joe Trevino lost in the At Large #5 runoff to Jolanda Jones in 2007, an election in which there were 25K total votes cast, but maybe focus a little on recruiting strong Latinx candidates to run in the At Large races, and then support them financially? Just a thought.

This is also a possibility.

This near-absence of Latinos undermines the legitimacy of Houston’s government and leads to an inadequate representation of Latino preferences in city policymaking. Houston’s political, economic and societal leaders must take action immediately to insure that in the 2023 election we do not witness a repeat of the 2019 election.

There are two principal types of representation, descriptive and substantive. Descriptive representation reflects the extent to which the composition of a legislature mirrors the population it represents. With Latinos accounting for 6 percent of the council and for 45percent of the population, it’s clear Houston earns a failing grade in descriptive representation. This grade will sink even lower with the dearth of Asian Americans on the council; 7 percent of Houston residents are Asian American.

Substantive representation reflects the extent to which members of a legislature promote the preferences of their constituents. While not an ironclad rule, the American Politics literature suggests that, all other things being roughly equal, an individual’s policy preferences are better represented by a legislator from their own ethnic or racial group. With one Latino council member, the substantive policy interests of Latino residents are being sub-optimally represented in crucial policy areas ranging from public safety and social services to road construction and job creation.

Four initiatives can help boost the number of Latinos in the council horseshoe in four years time.

First, eliminate the city’s five at-large council seats and replace them with five single-member district seats in addition to the existing 11 single-member district seats. The last time a Latino was elected to one of the five at-large positions was in 1999, with nine consecutive elections (45 separate contests) in a row where no Latino has been victorious. This year, all five at-large races were decided in a runoff, yet among the 10 runoff candidates there were zero Latinos.

Once the 2020 US Census data are available, Mayor Sylvester Turner and the city council could easily abolish the five at-large districts and create 16 new, less populous, single-member districts for the 2023 election. Since the shift from at-large to single-member districts enhances minority voting rights, it should be bullet-proof from legal challenge. If the number of single-member districts were increased to 16, it would be possible to draw five or six districts where Latino registered voters constitute an absolute or near absolute majority as well as one district where Asian Americans account for the largest share of voters.

That’s an op-ed from oft-quoted poli sci prof Mark Jones. I personally see no reason why Latinx candidates can’t get elected to at large positions. It’s not like there have been a bunch of frustrating near misses from well-regarded and sufficiently-funded candidates. We did elect Orlando Sanchez and Gracie Saenz to citywide positions in the past. Jones’ other points include things like more voter registration, a focused effort on Latino turnout in city elections, and more recruitment and support of Latinx candidates. I’m on board with all of that, and I would argue that those things can and will lead to Latinx candidates getting elected citywide. If I’m wrong about that, I’ll gladly concede the point about getting rid of At Large districts. In the meantime, I do think there’s some value in having At Large Council members, as a backup for the districts when there’s an unexpected vacancy, as there was in District H in 2009 following Adrian Garcia’s election as Sheriff, and in District K in 2018 following the death of Larry Green. I’m not opposed to Jones’ proposal, but I don’t think it’s necessary to solve the problem.

District H status

The closest election we had on Saturday remains unsettled.

CM Karla Cisneros

Just a dozen votes separate Houston City Council District H contenders Karla Cisneros and Isabel Longoria, and it may come down to an undetermined number of provisional, overseas and military ballots to determine a winner in the race.

According to the Harris County Clerk’s office, incumbent Cisneros had edged out Longoria by just .12 percent of the vote in Saturday’s runoff election. Cisneros won 5,283 votes or 50.06 percent, and Longoria received 5,271 votes, or 49.94 percent of ballots counted.

Longoria could request a recount under Texas election law. When the difference in the number of votes received between the two candidates (12 in the District H race) is less than 10 percent of the number of total votes received by the race winner (528 votes, in Cisneros’ case), the losing candidate could petition for a recount, according to the Texas Secretary of State’s office.

Longoria has not yet committed to requesting a recount, nor has she conceded in the race. The deadline to file a recount request is 5 p.m. Dec. 22, two days after Harris County will canvass or officially tally the votes.

“I will wait for every vote to be counted before making any decisions about a recount or other process,” Longoria said in a press release Sunday morning.

[…]

Trautman’s office can receive overseas and military ballots up to six days after an election, said Teneshia Hudspeth, a Harris County Clerk’s Office spokesperson. They do not know how many provisional ballots were cast.

It has no way of identifying if any of those ballots cast a vote for District H until the election canvass, Hudspeth said.

You can see the election night returns here, and Longoria’s press release here. I expect two things to happen: One, for Longoria to ask for a recount. She has every right to do this, and there’s no good reason not to do it. This was a super close race, and everything should be double-checked according to the rules. And two, I expect the recount will make no difference. They almost never do. There just aren’t that many overseas and military ballots, and there were never that many provisional ballots that ultimately counted. By all means, go through the process, but keep your expectations about what will happen as a result modest.

8 Day runoff 2019 campaign finance reports

We start with a Chron story.

Mayor Sylvester Turner raked in more than $1.7 million from late October through early December and spent roughly the same amount, leaving him with almost $600,000 for the final days of the runoff, according to a campaign finance report filed Friday.

The total marked a fundraising surge for Turner, who was aided by newly reset donor contribution limits for the runoff, though he still was outspent by Tony Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer and the mayor’s opponent in the Dec. 14 contest.

Buzbee, who is self-financing his campaign and refusing all campaign contributions, put $2.3 million of his own money into the campaign last month and spent almost $3.1 million between Oct. 27 and Wednesday, leaving him with about $524,000.

With a week to go in the election, Buzbee and Turner have now combined to spend about $19 million in what has become easily the most expensive Houston mayoral race yet. Buzbee has spent $11.8 million of the $12.3 million he has put into his campaign account, while Turner has spent $7.2 million since the middle of 2018.

As an earlier story notes, self-funding has only occasionally been a winning strategy in Houston. I don’t expect it to be any different this time, but I do note that Buzbee’s basic strategy has changed. I still haven’t seen a Buzbee TV ad since November, but we’ve gotten a couple of mailers (someone needs to clean up his database if he’s mailing to me), I’ve seen a bunch of web ads, and he’s been littering the streets with signs. Gotta spend that money on something.

Here’s a summary of the 8 day reports for the runoff:


Race   Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
===========================================================
Mayor  Turner     1,741,906  1,722,625        0     597,624
Mayor  Buzbee     2,300,000  3,076,360        0     524,420

A      Peck          38,075     39,252    5,000      15,373
A      Zoes           6,600      7,562    4,000       3,723

B      Jackson
B      Bailey           355        284      200          70

C      Kamin        180,528    137,396        0     173,370
C      Kennedy       35,160     18,343        0      25,995

D      Shabazz       31,490     28,575        0       5,009
D      Jordan        28,190     11,688        0      53,724

F      Thomas        
F      Huynh         

H      Cisneros      54,700     75,012        0      41,632
H      Longoria      36,945     32,906        0      20,946

J      Rodriguez
J      Pollard       38,016     47,147   40,000      22,864

AL1    Knox          69,710     49,857        0      16,073
AL1    Salhotra     128,672    121,736        0      64,150

AL2    Robinson     111,280    199,791        0     189,649
AL2    Davis         27,725     10,367        0      19,816

AL3    Kubosh        72,215     69,164  276,000     113,500
AL3    Carmouche     17,570     11,757        0       5,812

AL4    Plummer       41,915     44,501   21,900      12,443
AL4    Dolcefino     19,215     17,482        0       6,478

AL5    Alcorn       195,105    154,757        0      49,463
AL5    Dick           1,100     65,205   75,000       2,545

I think there must be some reports that have not been uploaded – the Chron story mentions Sandra Rodriguez’s numbers, but there was no report visible on Saturday. It and the others may be there on Monday. In the Council races, what we see here is a continuation of what we had seen before. Big fundraisers raised big money, others didn’t. Eric Dick did his spend-his-own-money-and-file-weird-reports thing. Most of the spending has not been particularly visible to me – I’ve gotten a mailer from Robinson and Turner, and that’s about it.

How much any of this moves the needle remains to be seen. As we know from the Keir Murray reports, the runoff electorate is very similar in nature to the November electorate. That’s obviously better for some candidates than for others. If you think of fundraising in runoffs as being like the betting markets to some extent, then we’re probably headed towards the expected results. We’ll see if there are any surprises in store.

Chron overview of the District H runoff

This one’s in my back yard.

CM Karla Cisneros

Strolling through Independence Heights one recent cloudy afternoon, Councilwoman Karla Cisneros encountered reminders of the issues facing her district: a stray dog roaming from home to home, illegally dumped trash blocking a drainage ditch, a constituent still patching up damage from Tropical Storm Imelda.

Flooding and the stray animal population are among several issues Cisneros wants to continue tackling on city council if voters award her another term. Standing in her way is Isabel Longoria, a 31-year-old former legislative aide and city planning commissioner who has mounted a spirited campaign against the first-term incumbent.

In the first round, Cisneros secured 38 percent of the vote — enough to lead the four-candidate field, but short of the majority needed for an outright win. Longoria finished second, with 27 percent, and faces Cisneros in a December runoff.

While in office, Cisneros, who chairs city council’s economic development subcommittee on education, has focused much of her attention on education and workforce development.

“We need to be growing our own, because we have a huge population of young people who could be doing these jobs,” Cisneros said on the recent block walking session. “And if we don’t, then they’re not going to be contributing. They’re going to be a burden. And there’s no reason that they shouldn’t be what our city is built on.”

Longoria, meanwhile, has cast herself as the more progressive candidate and claims to be more in touch with district activists. She does not hide her wonkish approach to politics, running in the vein of presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren as the one with the plans to turn her ideas into policy.

At the core of Longoria’s pitch for change is her argument that Cisneros has not been adequately proactive about key issues in District H, an L-shaped area that takes in Independence Heights, Near Northside, East End and Woodland Heights. Longoria contends that Cisneros, a former school teacher and HISD board trustee, has focused her attention too squarely on education and workforce development to the detriment of other topics.

“I’m not one who backs down from confrontation,” Longoria said. “I think confrontation is a warrior fighting for their community. And I don’t think Karla has that same warrior spirit. I think she’s a teacher, and that’s great. But we can’t teach our way out of this problem.”

Cisneros, 65, sees things differently, arguing that she deserves another term based on her record over four years.

Here’s the thing: They’re both good. There are current members of Council that I will be happy to see the end of, but CM Cisneros is not on that list. You can read the story for the arguments for and against her, but she’s a perfectly decent Council member. Longoria is a wonk after my own heart, and there’s no question in my mind she’ll be terrific. I said in an earlier post that I hadn’t noticed a lot of Cisneros yard signs in the blocks around where I live – my dog likes going on long walks, so I see all the houses sooner or later – but that is no longer the case. She’s winning the yard sign race at this point. Looking at the official canvass, Cisneros got 52% in Precinct 0003, and 46% in Precinct 0004. In 2015 she got 53% in 0003, and 62% in 0004, so about the same in one part of the neighborhood and some slippage in the other. I don’t know what if anything that may mean for this year, but there you have it.

Final results are in

Here they are. Refer to my previous post for the initial recap, I’m going to be very minimalist. Let’s do this PowerPoint-style, it’s already been a long day:

Mayor – Turner fell short of 50%, landing up a bit below 47%. He and Buzbee will be in a runoff. Which, if nothing else, means a much higher turnout for the runoff.

Controller: Chris Brown wins.

District A: Peck versus Zoes.
District B: Jackson versus Bailey.
District C: Kamin versus Kennedy. Gotta say, it’s a little surprising, but quite nice, for it to be an all-Dem runoff. Meyers came close to catching Kennedy, but she hung on to second place.
District D: Brad Jordan had a late surge, and will face Carolyn Evans-Shabazz in the runoff. If Evans-Shabazz wins, she’ll need to resign her spot on the HCC Board, so there would be another new Trustee if that happens.
District F: Thomas versus Huynh. Other than the two years we had of Richard Nguyen, this seat has pretty much always been held by a Republican. Tiffany Thomas has a chance to change that.
District H: Cisneros verusus Longoria.
District J: Pollard versus Rodriguez. Sandra Rodriguez had a late surge and nearly finished ahead of Pollard. Very evenly matched in Round One.

At Large #1: Knox versus Salhotra. Both candidates will benefit from the Mayoral runoff, though I think Raj may be helped more.
At Large #2: Robinson versus Davis, a rerun from 2015.
At Large #3: Kubosh slipped below 50% and will face Janaeya Carmouche in overtime.
At Large #4: Dolcefino versus Plummer. We will have somewhere between zero and four Republicans in At Large seats, in case anyone needs some non-Mayoral incentive for December.
At Large #5: Alcorn versus Eric Dick. Lord, please spare me Eric Dick. I don’t ask for much.

HISD: Dani Hernandez and Judith Cruz ousted incumbents Sergio Lira and Diana Davila. Maybe that will make the TEA look just a teeny bit more favorably on HISD. Kathy Blueford Daniels will face John Curtis Gibbs, and Matt Barnes had a late surge to make it into the runoff against Patricia Allen.

HCC: Monica Flores Richart inched up but did not make it to fifty percent, so we’re not quite rid of Dave Wilson yet. Rhonda Skillern-Jones will face Kathy Lynch-Gunter in that runoff.

HD148: A late surge by Anna Eastman gives her some distance between her and Luis La Rotta – Eastman got 20.34%, La Rotta 15.84%. The Republican share of the vote fell from 34% to 32%, right on what they got in this district in 2018.

Now you are up to date. Go get some sleep.

2019 election results: Houston and Metro

Unfortunately, we have to start with this:

Results of Tuesday’s election could take until 2 a.m. Wednesday after the Texas Secretary of State issued a new regulation that upended plans by the Harris County Clerk’s Office to speed vote counting.

The first tubs containing electronic ballot cards from across Harris County arrived at central count just before 9:30 p.m., where election judges and poll watchers waited to see the vote count in action.

Dr. Diane Trautman said she had hoped to have votes come in from 10 countywide drop-off locations, fed in through a secured intranet site, leading to faster results on election night.

Instead, Secretary Ruth R. Hughs ordered on Oct. 23 that law enforcement officers would instead escort the ballot box memory cards from each of the 757 polling sites to the central counting station.

That change, made nearly two weeks before Election Day, led to a major delay that left voters wondering for hours how races up and down ballot would turn out.

Early election results trickled in shortly after 7 p.m., but remained virtually unchanged for hours Tuesday.

Here’s the County Clerk’s statement about that order. I don’t know what was behind it, but it sure did gum things up. In the end, final results were not available till quite late, with no more partial results after midnight because producing those was slowing down the input process. Here’s the later statement on when results would be expected. Suffice to say, this was a mess, and no one is happy about it all. Expect there to be an extended fight between the County Clerk and SOS offices.

Anyway. I’m still groggy from a late night, so I’m going to hit the highlights, and we’ll get final results later. Here we go.

Mayor: Turner leads, is close to a majority.

Mayor Sylvester Turner held a wide lead over Tony Buzbee in limited early returns late Tuesday and was within striking distance of an outright re-election win, though it was unclear at press time if he would secure enough votes to avoid a runoff.

Buzbee, a millionaire trial lawyer, jumped out to an early second-place lead that he appeared likely to retain over Bill King, an attorney and businessman who narrowly lost a 2015 runoff to Turner but struggled this time to compete financially with Buzbee, his main rival for conservative votes.

With a small share of Election Day precincts reporting, Turner remained a shade under the majority vote share he would need to avoid a December runoff against Buzbee.

Councilman Dwight Boykins, who competed with Turner for the support of Democratic and black voters, trailed in fourth place, while former councilwoman Sue Lovell was further behind in fifth. Seven other candidates combined for the remaining share of the vote.

Adding in the Fort Bend results, and we get the following:


Turner     63,359  47.28%
Buzbee     39,361  29.37%
King       17,878  13.34%
Boykins     7,848   5.86%
Lovell      1,433   1.07%
The Rest    4,121   3.08%

Three things to think about: One, Turner has at this point more votes than Buzbee and King combined, so if we do go to a runoff that’s not a bad position to start with. Two, the Election Day results reported so far came mostly from Districts A, C, E, and G, so they would be more favorable to Buzbee and King than the city as a whole. And three, the election polling was pretty accurate, especially at pegging the support levels for Boykins and Lovell.

Oh, and a fourth thing: Tony Buzbee’s drunken Election Night speech. Yowza.

Controller: Incumbent Chris Brown leads

It’s Brown 62,297 and Sanchez 54,864 adding in Fort Bend, and again with mostly Republican votes from yesterday (Sanchez led the Election Day tally by about 1,700 votes). Barring a big surprise, Brown has won.

City Council: Most incumbents have big leads, and there’s gonna be a lot of runoffs. To sum up:

District A: Amy Peck has 44.3%, George Zoes 16.8%
District B: Tarsha Jackson 21.0%, Renee Jefferson Smith 15.1%, Cynthia Bailey 13.7%, Alvin Byrd 10.7%
District C: Abbie Kamin 30.8%, Shelley Kennedy 15.8%, Greg Meyers 14.4%, Mary Jane Smith 14.0%
District D: Carolyn Evans-Shabazz 19.0%, Carla Brailey 12.3%, Brad Jordan 11.9%, Rashad Cave 11.4%, Jerome Provost 10.4%, Andrew Burks 10.3%
District E: Dave Martin easily wins
District F: Tiffany Thomas 39%, Van Huynh 24%, Richard Nguyen 18%
District G: Greg Travis easily wins
District H: Karla Cisneros 38.9%, Isabel Longoria 27.5%, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla 24.0%
District I: Robert Gallegos easily wins
District J: Edward Pollard 32.4%, Sandra Rodriguez 26.4%, Barry Curtis 19.7%
District K: MArtha Castex-Tatum easily wins

At Large #1: Mike Knox 38.1%, Raj Salhotra 21.1%, Yolanda Navarro Flores 16.3%, Georgia Provost 14.7%
At Large #2: Davis Robinson 38.9%, Willie Davis 28.8%, Emily DeToto 18.8%
At Large #3: Michael Kubosh 50.8%, Janaeya Carmouche 20.6%
At Large #4: Anthony Dolcefino 22.9%, Letitia Plummer 16.4%, Nick Hellyar 12.8%, Ericka McCrutcheon 11.3%, Bill Baldwin 10.5%
At Large #5: Sallie Alcorn 23.2%, Eric Dick 22.0%, no one else above 10

Some of the runoff positions are still very much up in the air. Michael Kubosh may or may not win outright – he was only at 46% on Election Day. Name recognition worth a lot (Dolcefino, Dick) but not everything (both Provosts, Burks). Not much else to say but stay tuned.

HISD: Davila and Lira are going to lose

Dani Hernandez leads Sergio Lira 62-38, Judith Cruz leads Diana Davila 64-36. Kathy Blueford Daniels is close to fifty percent in II but will likely be in a runoff with John Curtis Gibbs. Patricia Allen, Reagan Flowers, and Matt Barnes in that order are in a tight battle in IV.

HCC: No story link on the Chron front page. Monica Flores Richart leads the execrable Dave Wilson 47-34 in HCC1, Rhonda Skillern-Jones leads with 45% in HCC2 with Kathy Lynch-Gunter at 26%, and Cynthia Lenton-Gary won HCC7 unopposed.

Metro: Headed to easy passage, with about 68% so far.

That’s all I got for now. Come back later for more.

30 Day campaign finance reports: Incumbents and challengers for Council

As before, my look at the July 2019 finance reports for these candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Martin         8,150     20,389        0     147,952
Cleveland      5,682      5,330        0         352

Travis         9,800     20,193   21,000     121,297
Pletka         4,167      3,289        0           4
Baker              0        582        0           0

Cisneros      20,281     38,605        0      93,941
Longoria      49,639     20,243        0      23,589
ReyesRevilla  10,356      5,809        0      16,187
Salcedo

Gallegos      16,510     47,728        0     115,718
Gonzales       5,190      4,159    4,310       5,190

Castex-Tatum  15,850     11,568        0      44,409
Vander-Lyn       625          0        0           0
Sauke            100      2,008        0         130

Knox          32,188     35,540        0      24,990
Salhotra      81,218     67,748        0     180,947
Provost        4,850      4,775        0         468
Nav Flores       259        259        0           0
Blackmon

Robinson      52,008     48,267        0     255,938
Davis         20,665     29,110    3,000       8,832
Griffin        1,350        700        0         650
Detoto            24      3,124      500         439
Honey

Kubosh        40,035     39,076  276,000     122,578
Carmouche      3,975      7,156        0         708
McClinton     14,787     18,577        0       4,895
Gonzalez

Not a whole lot of interest here. There are multiple candidates who entered the race too late to have a July report who are showing up this time, but outside of Isabel Longoria in H none of them made much of an impression. That race continues to be the most interesting non-Mayoral challenge to an incumbent on the ballot. Karla Cisneros has plenty of resources available to her, but she’s in a fight.

Beyond that, as I said, not much to say. I wish Janaeya Carmouche had raised more money. Willie Davis and Marcel McClinton did raise a few bucks, but not nearly enough to make a difference in a citywide race. There’s just nothing else to say. I’ll have more reports tomorrow.

UPDATE: Because I’m an idiot, I overlooked the At Large #1 race initially. Raj Salhotra continues his fundraising superiority, while Mike Knox at least raised a few bucks, and no one else did anything of note. I see a lot of Raj signs in my neighborhood, but I think I’d feel better if I saw a TV ad or two from his campaign. Old-fashioned, I know, but it’s still the best way to reach a lot of voters.

Endorsement watch: A and H

Looks like we’re going to keep getting these endorsements in pairs. Today’s duo includes an incumbent and an open seat candidate. First up, incumbent Karla Cisneros.

CM Karla Cisneros

Poverty and lack of academic achievement are problems that concern all of Houston, but they are particularly pressing in District H, an area that covers not only the growing Near Northside, Woodland Heights and East End, but also struggling neighborhoods north of 610 and near Buffalo Bayou. It’s a place where only about 14 percent of adult residents have a college degree.

“If 70 percent of the kids are black and brown and most of them are in poverty, that is the most critical issue that I see before our city,” Councilwoman Karla Cisneros told the editorial board. “We cannot rely on bringing people in to fill the jobs that we want, we need to grow our own.”

Cisneros, 65, has used her first term on the council to advocate for education, call attention to poverty and address the problem of stray animals and pet overpopulation, all issues that many of her constituents grapple with every day.

She has earned the right to continue to fight on their behalf.

[…]

The incumbent has drawn three challengers, all Latinas looking to make a change in the district: Cynthia Reyes-Revilla, a real estate broker; Gaby Salcedo, a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University; and Isabel Longoria, a community organizer.

All have shown a commitment to help the district and a passion for public service, but it is Longoria who stands out among the contenders. She is energetic, knowledgeable and has experience working within local and state government — and anyone who describes herself as “a wonk” and “a nerd” who loves Houston, warrants our attention.

My interview with Isabel Longoria is here, my interview with Cynthia Reyes-Revilla is here, and my 2015 interview with then-candidate Cisneros is here. The relevant June finance reports are here, and while I haven’t posted the 30 day reports for this race yet, I can tell you that Longoria outraised Cisneros $49K to $20K for the period, but Cisneros still has $93K in the bank.

Over in District A, the Chron goes for Amy Peck:

Amy Peck

District A Councilwoman Brenda Stardig may not be on the Nov. 5 ballot, but the race to replace her has become a referendum on the two-term incumbent’s tenure.

Stardig’s chief of staff, Amy Peck, is running to replace her boss and has become the dart board for her opponents seeking the seat. That’s ironic for Peck, who was herself a Stardig critic when she ran against her in 2009 and 2013. The next year, Stardig hired Peck to run her Council office.

“Any other job, you want that experience,” Peck told the editorial board. “You want someone who understands the job, so I don’t know why in this situation experience has somehow become something negative.”

[…]

Recognizing a problem is half the battle, but completing the mission requires specific plans. Peck’s experience working in District A makes her better qualified to develop successful plans than the other candidates. Peck won’t be a Stardig clone, but she has learned by working for Stardig what does and doesn’t work in each neighborhood. That’s an asset District A needs.

As noted, Peck has been a candidate for A twice before, and I interviewed her both times, most recently in 2013. I see her as being another Dave Martin type – considerably more conservative than I am, but serious about governing and up to the task. You could do far, far worse in a district like A, and for those whose memories stretch back to 2011, you know that we have. The July finance reports that include District A are here, and I promise I’ll have the 30 day reports up soon. I can tell you that Peck, who was never a prodigious fundraiser, has taken in a bit less than $50K so far. No one else is even over $10K. Which, for an open seat in particular, is kind of nuts. I figure that will change for the runoff, and of course she’ll have plenty of opportunity to make up for it as an incumbent, but for now enjoy a genuine throwback low-dollar Council race.

A brief look at the Council incumbents who face contested races

I think two, and hopefully three, of these races are truly competitive. The others, not so much.

Raj Salhotra

Asked how she would operate differently from City Councilwoman Karla Cisneros, the District H incumbent she is trying to unseat in November, Isabel Longoria did not mince words.

“What I would do different is … not be afraid to stand up to folks and say, here are the decisions we have to make — and not hide until the last minute because I’m scared to upset people,” Longoria, a former city planning commissioner and legislative policy aide, told the Chronicle editorial board last week.

Cisneros, a former HISD board president and first-term council member, shot back, “I’ve experienced this my whole life. I have a very feminine look about me, my voice is soft, and I can tell you that I am often underestimated. I’ve been called an iron fist in a velvet glove, for good reason.”

The exchange displayed the heightening intensity evident in many of the 16 Houston city council races, including eight involving incumbents defending their seats this fall. If any one of their challengers wins, the result would add to what already is guaranteed to be a seismic turnover on council, as half the current body is term-limited or not seeking re-election.

[…]

Aside from the District H race, which also includes real estate agent and neighborhood advocate Cynthia Reyes-Revilla and scientific researcher Gaby Salcedo, multiple challengers are hoping to force At-Large Councilmen Mike Knox (Position 1), David Robinson (Position 2) and Michael Kubosh (Position 3) into runoffs. Two district council members — Greg Travis of District G and Martha Castex-Tatum of District K — also face multiple opponents, while District E Councilman Dave Martin and District I Councilman Robert Gallegos each have drawn one challenger.

Knox, an Air Force veteran and former Houston police officer, generally is seen as one of the most vulnerable incumbents, thanks in part to a sluggish fundraising start compared to Raj Salhotra, one of his opponents. Salhotra raised $220,000 during the first six months of the year, compared to Knox’s $40,000 haul.

Still, Knox’s opponents — Larry Blackmon, Yolanda Navarro Flores, Georgia Provost and Salhotra — may have a tough time unseating him, depending on how many people turn out to vote. Knox would have the edge “if the electorate is the way it typically is in a municipal year — older and conservative,” [UH poli saci prof Brandon] Rottinghaus said.

Salhotra’s fundraising, and Provost’s strength among black voters — especially with competitive races in District B and D drawing voters — will counter Knox’s strengths, said Jay Aiyer, a public policy consultant and former chief of staff to Mayor Lee Brown. However, Aiyer added, Knox’s opponent in a potential runoff would need to draw at least some non-traditional voters.

“That’s one of the dangers when assessing the vulnerability of someone like Knox,” Aiyer said. “A lot of the younger candidates running social media-driven campaigns, geared toward energizing new or young voters — that’s a real uphill battle in a municipal election.”

Rottinghaus said the partisan nature of the race — with Democrats generally coalescing behind Salhotra and Republicans backing Knox — means the result will say a lot about the state of Houston’s electorate.

“This is really a story about the changing nature of the city. In a microcosm, this will be the most telling election — in addition to the mayor’s race — of how Houston and the region has changed,” he said.

Beating Kubosh, meanwhile, will require a mix of grass-roots support and a large war chest, Aiyer said. One of Kubosh’s opponents, Janaeya Carmouche, has built connections in progressive circles as a city council staffer and, more recently, deputy director of engagement for Harris County Commissioner Rodney Ellis. Carmouche also will have to report a significant fundraising amount in her next campaign finance report to be competitive, Aiyer said.

“I’m undaunted by the idea of incumbency, because I don’t believe in ownership of a position,” Carmouche said. “I believe that we have to earn that right every time.”

Also challenging Kubosh is Marcel McClinton, a recent high school graduate who has gained renown for his gun control advocacy after surviving a 2016 church shooting. He said he would push council to consider recommendations from the mayor’s commission against gun violence and prioritize climate change initiatives and flood control.

At Large #1 and District H, where I am, are definitely the ones to watch. Raj Salhotra has run a strong campaign and raised a lot of money, which he’s going to need to get his name out there to enough voters. I remain puzzled by Knox’s anemic fundraising totals. He’s a conservative Republican in a Democratic city, he’s not been very high profile on Council, and he has nowhere near enough money to run a robust citywide campaign. Maybe he figured he was playing with house money to begin with, maybe he just isn’t much for doing the dirty work, I don’t know. What I do know is that if Raj can get him into a runoff – he has to finish ahead of Georgia Provost, which is not a slam dunk – he can win.

As for District H, I don’t underestimate CM Cisneros, but I will note that in my neighborhood, which is also her neighborhood, I see a lot of Longoria and Reyes-Revilla signs. That doesn’t strike me as a great omen for her. I do see Cisneros signs, too, it just seems like her base has eroded. Looking back at the four-person race in November of 2015, she got 269 of 510 votes (52.7%) in Precinct 3 and 361 of 578 votes (62.5%) in Precinct 4, which combine to cover much of the Woodland Heights. I’m not feeling that for her this time. I could be wrong, and she can at least easily make it to a runoff even with a lesser performance in those two boxes. Outside of Knox, though, she appears to be the incumbent with the strongest opposition.

I’d like to add At Large #3 to this list, but I’m going to need to see a stronger finance report from Janaeya Carmouche first, and I’m going to need to see some evidence of actual campaigning from Marcel McClinton. (This isn’t quite what I had in mind, but it is impressive and laudable nonetheless.) Michael Kubosh hasn’t raised much money, either, but he has some self-funding capability, and unlike Knox has a fair amount of name recognition. He’s the favorite until and unless something changes.

The open seat races are more competitive, and much more chaotic overall. I have no idea what might happen in most of them. I presume we’ll get some overview stories on those contests in the next week or two.

Interview with Isabel Longoria

Isabel Longoria

As I’ve said before, I’m going to be doing a limited set of interviews this fall, with some more likely to follow for the runoffs. (Which will then blend right into the 2020 primaries, but that’s a whole ‘nother thing.) My schedule and the sheer number of candidates don’t allow for anything more. One race that I do need to focus on is the one in my own district, District H, where two challengers have emerged against first-term incumbent CM Karla Cisneros. Isabel Longoria is someone I’ve known for a few years, through her work on the staffs of Rep. Jessica Farrar and then-Sen. Sylvia Garcia. She has also worked as a political consultant, and serves on the City of Houston’s Planning Commission, the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Board, and a bunch of other things. Here’s what we talked about:

I never did get around to creating an Election 2019 page, in part because the Erik Manning spreadsheet has it all. My roundup of July finance reports that includes District H is here, and my 2015 interview with CM Cisneros, then a candidate for H, is here.

July 2019 campaign finance reports: Incumbents and challengers for Council and Controller

Let me start by saying that I began this post before Amanda Edwards became a candidate for Senate. I’m going to keep the AL4 race in here, in part to include Edwards’ June report totals, and in part because I’m just stubborn that way. I did add in the candidates who have jumped into AL4, so this is as up to date as I am. Feel free to tell me who I’ve missed.

As before, my look at the January 2019 finance reports for Houston candidates is here, and all of the finance reports that I have downloaded and reviewed are in this Google folder. Except for the reports that were filed non-electronically, which you can find here. Erik Manning’s invaluable spreadsheet remains my source for who’s in what race.

Dave Martin – District E
Sam Cleveland – District E
Ryan Lee – District E

Greg Travis – District G

Karla Cisneros – District H
Isabel Longoria – District H
Cynthia Reyes-Revilla – District H

Robert Gallegos – District I
Rick Gonzales – District I

Martha Castex-Tatum – District K

Mike Knox – At Large #1
Michelle Bonton – At Large #1
Georgia Provost – At Large #1
Raj Salhotra – At Large #1

David Robinson – At Large #2
Willie Davis – At Large #2
Emily Detoto – At Large #2

Michael Kubosh – At Large #3
Janaeya Carmouche – At Large #3
Marcel McClinton – At Large #3
Goku Sankar – At Large #3

Amanda Edwards – At Large #4
Christel Bastida – At Large #4
Tiko Reynolds-Hausman – At Large #4
Ericka McCrutcheon – At Large #4
Jason Rowe – At Large #4
Nick Hellyar – At Large #4
Letitia Plummer – At Large #4

Chris Brown – Controller
Amparo Gasca – Controller


Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
====================================================
Martin        49,450     18,939        0     151,184
Cleveland
Lee

Travis        68,234     15,749   21,000     131,691

Cisneros      54,325      8,959        0     109,471
Longoria
R-Revilla     19,408      1,859        0      17,130

Gallegos      65,100     25,016        0     145,090
Gonzales         400      3,627    3,510         400

C-Tatum       37,200     13,664        0      40,128

Knox          40,295     45,555        0      41,171
Bonton
Provost
Salhotra     220,377     30,340        0     178,539

Robinson      88,616     27,043        0     262,221
Davis         10,250      3,051    3,000         807
Detoto         2,600      2,660      500         439

Kubosh        43,875     20,319  276,000     122,870
Carmouche      8,950      5,397    1,000       3,706
McClinton     25,823     21,739        0       8,675
Sankar

Edwards       73,807     42,179        0     192,791
Bastida        1,103         51      200         750
R-Hausman
McCrutcheon    5,100      7,225    5,000
Rowe               0          0        0           0
Hellyar       37,017     34,446        0      20,501
Plummer       64,519     36,356        0      43,795

Brown         66,611     36,522   75,000     234,350
Gasca

I know Tiko Reynolds-Hausman and Isabel Longoria entered their races in July, so they have no reports yet. That may be true for some others as well, but if so I’m not aware of them.

Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first. Greg Travis and Martha Castex-Tatum don’t have opponents. Chris Brown, Dave Martin, and Robert Gallegos may as well not have them, either. I know, there’s still a few months to go before the election, but none of the purported challengers appear to be doing much. Heck, only Sam Cleveland even has a website, though Ryan Lee and Rick Gonzales do at least have Facebook pages. So yeah, nothing to see here.

David Robinson and Michael Kubosh have opponents who have been a bit more active – Willie Davis is a repeat candidate, having run in 2015 against Robinson – but so far don’t appear to pose too much of a threat.

The threat to Karla Cisneros is greater, and potentially severe. I’ve already seen a couple of signs for her opponents in my neighborhood, and while Isabel Longoria hasn’t had a chance to post a finance report yet, Cynthia Reyes-Revilla’s totals are OK. Not terrifying if you’re the incumbent, but not nothing. Keep this one in your back pocket, and we’ll revisit when the 30 day reports are posted.

Had Amanda Edwards decided to stay in Houston and run for re-election, I’d have grouped her with the not-really-challenged incumbents. With AL4 now an open seat, and the field likely to expand further (*checks the Manning spreadsheet one last time to make sure no one else has entered the race*), it’s also open in the sense that there’s no clear frontrunner. Nick Hellyar and Letitia Plummer, who had started out in other races, have the early fundraising lead, but not enough to present a significant obstacle. Hellyar has picked up multiple endorsements from current and former elected officials, which ought to boost his coffers, but we’ll see what that means in practice. We really don’t know anything about this race right now.

And then there’s At Large #1. If you knew nothing about this election and I told you that Raj Salhotra was the incumbent and Mike Know was a challenger, you’d believe me based on their numbers. I can’t recall the last time an incumbent was so thoroughly outclassed in this regard. That’s great for Salhotra, whose biggest challenge isn’t Knox as much as it is Georgia Provost, who nudged past four better-funded candidates as well as ultra-perennial candidate Griff Griffin to make it into the runoff in 2015. She’s going to get her share of votes, especially if the voters don’t know the other candidates on the ballot. Salhotra is well on his way to having the resources to run a sufficient citywide campaign and introduce himself to the electorate. In what should be a prelude to another runoff, he just needs to finish in the top two. So far, so good.

I’ll break up the open seat races into two or three more posts. Did I mention there were a crap-ton of candidates this year? Let me know what you think.