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Election 2008

HD105 recount concluded

Just call her Landslide Linda.

Republicans maintained their two-vote majority in the Texas House of Representatives on Friday after election officials completed a recount in a Dallas County race.

Rep. Linda Harper-Brown, R-Irving, led her Democratic opponent Bob Romano by 20 votes after the Nov. 4 election. Friday’s recount changed that margin to 19.

“I felt very confident this was going to be the outcome,” Harper-Brown said Friday night. “I’m ready to come to Austin.”

Well, it’s bigger than the margin Rep. Hubert Vo wound up with in 2004 after the election challenge was resolved. And it’s more than enough to count. Speaking of election challenges:

Romano’s lawyer, Buck Wood of Austin, said his client is weighing whether to challenge the results. The Texas Democratic Party also has a separate federal lawsuit pending.

That’s his right, but I don’t see it changing anything. I think the lawsuit has a greater chance of affecting the outcome, and I think the lawsuit is a loser. But hey, what’s a little more drama for this session? Thanks to BOR for the link.

Still more on Bettencourt

PDiddie, Greg, and Burka all comment on the Bettencourt resignation, with the latter positing a reason for the sudden departure:

[I]f he had remained in office, the chances were that things would have gotten rather unpleasant for him. Democrats had filed a lawsuit accusing Bettencourt of illegally rejecting voter registration applications and have said they would pursue the lawsuit next year. A case involving civil rights with the Justice Department in Democratic hands may well have been enough to persuade Bettencourt that the time was right for a career change.

Maybe, but color me unconvinced. For one thing, it’s easy enough to claim loudly – and he’d have plenty of backing voices on this – that the suit was just partisan griping. The beauty of that is you can claim it regardless of how things proceed through the legal system – if you wind up prevailing, you were right all along, and if you lose, it just shows how perverted the legal process has become. I have little respect for Bettencourt, but I don’t think this kind of fight intimidates him. And even if he did see bad things on the horizon, given the usual velocity of this kind of suit, surely he had plenty of time before those bad things started to happen. Unless there’s a huge shoe about to drop, I don’t see this as a sufficiently motivating factor to quit now.

As far as Bettencourt’s replacement goes, the more I think about it the more clear the case for Diane Trautman is. She’s perfectly well-qualified. More than 500,000 people voted for her last month. Of the 47 races that appeared on every ballot in Harris County, the Democratic candidate won 40 of them. This was a strongly Democratic cycle in an increasingly Democratic county. The default choice to replace Bettencourt should be a Democrat, and the obvious Democrat is his opponent from the election he apparently didn’t mean to participate in, the one who got the Chronicle endorsement, Diane Trautman. There’s no Republican possibility who can claim any kind of mandate or justification to be handed this job for nearly two full years. If certain Republican factions don’t like that, well, they’re welcome to try and convince Bettencourt to change his mind. At least he had a viable claim to the position, before he chose to throw it away.

UPDATE: Stace adds on.

A little more on Bettencourt

The updated version of the Bettencourt resignation story has his statement, a brief summary of his career, and a couple of statements from folks like Jared Woodfill (who not too surprisingly loved him) and Gerry Birnberg (who not too surprisingly was more critical). As Bettencourt himself was unreachable for comment (gotta love those late Friday stories), that’s what we’ve got to work with for now. One point Birnberg made is worth noting:

Friday night, Harris County Democratic Party Chairman Gerald Birnberg said he expected Bettencourt to resign at some point, believing he had an interest in statewide office.

“So, I had expected him to resign to run for another office or to be more involved in the radio business,” Birnberg said. “It occurs to me that Paul is too deliberate for this to have occurred ‘day before yesterday.’ It has got to be something he was thinking about more than 30 days ago, before the election, and I am disappointed he did not share his plans with the voters.

“I didn’t agree with him on many things, but I have always respected his straightforwardness,” he said.

I too have heard that Bettencourt wants to run statewide; I’ve also heard he wants Steve Radack’s job when Radack retires. The thing is, I don’t see how resigning now helps him achieve either of those goals. It can’t help his name recognition outside of Harris County, and he’s unlikely to do better at fundraising as a private citizen than as a fairly high-profile officeholder. Bettencourt would have to resign to run for something else, but he’d have a year before he had to worry about that. Maybe this is still his plan and maybe it’s not, I just don’t think resigning now makes sense if it is his plan. Am I missing something?

As for Bettencourt’s replacement, PDiddie suggests in the comments to the previous post that former District Clerk Charles Bacarisse might be tapped, and that he wouldn’t be an improvement from our perspective. I certainly agree that he’d be no less partisan, but I’m not convinced he’d be in the running. One presumes Ed Emmett owes him no favors, after all. Regardless, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to let Commissioners Garcia and Lee know that you think it would be swell if we had a Tax Assessor who spent more time on the job than he or she did on talk radio. In the meantime, if you’ve got a rumor or a wild notion about who might draw the golden ticket, leave it in the comments.

UPDATE: As soon as I’d hit the Publish button, the following email from Annie’s List landed in my Inbox:

In the middle of the night it has been confirmed by the Houston Chronicle that Paul Bettencourt intends to vacate his seat effective December 10th and that the Harris County Commissioners Court will now need to appoint an interim successor to fill his term.

“We strongly encourage Judge Emmett and the Commissioners Court to appoint Dr. Diane Trautman to fill this unexpected vacancy. She is an extremely accomplished woman who, after being a candidate for the position for over a year, understands the Tax Assessor-Collectors office and has a clear vision of how to move this office forward while removing the air of partisanship that has undermined it in the past” said Annie’s List Political Director Robert E. Jones.

“With over 24 years experience as a teacher, administrator and college professor, Dr. Diane Trautman has demonstrated she has the experience and a track record of ethical leadership to run the Tax Assessor-Collectors office as a service organization that puts people over politics.”

Needless to say, I would be delighted by that choice. I hope Commissioners Garcia and Lee, at the least, give it serious consideration.

Bettencourt resigning

Whoah. I did not see this coming.

Harris County Tax Assessor-Collector Paul Bettencourt has resigned, effective Dec. 10.

Bettencourt, who was elected to his third term last month, turned in a letter of resignation to Harris County Judge Ed Emmett on Thursday, Emmett spokesman Joe Stinebaker said later Friday.

He said Bettencourt was leaving to take a job in the private sector, but was unable to elaborate.

Obviously not much detail to this now – I can’t wait to see what the morning update looks like. That’s an even faster post-election resignation than Robert Eckels. And as with Eckels, I have to ask: Did he not have any inkling of this before the election? I think if I were a Bettencourt supporter, I’d be a little miffed about this.

I presume his replacement will be chosen by Commissioners Court. Which leads to a question: Do you think he’d have resigned if David Mincberg had been elected County Judge, which would have meant a Democratic majority on the Court and thus (presumably) a Democratic replacement? Actually, come to think of it, he might have done the same thing, in hopes of getting someone named to take over before Mincberg got sworn in. Boy, there’s a hypothetical for you.

Well, one more office for the Dems to try to win in 2010. I can’t say that prospect makes me unhappy.

UPDATE: Here’s his statement, from Miya:

“I have spoken with Judge Emmett and told him of my intention to tender my resignation before Christmas. I want to give the Court time to address the vacancy and ensure an orderly transition,” Bettencourt said.

“Over the Thanksgiving holiday I have received an offer of a private business venture that I intend to pursue.

“I want to thank the good people of Harris County for allowing me the opportunity to serve. It has been an honor and a privilege.

“We have accomplished a great deal in the office, ushering in an era of smart government – a focus on customer service and technology,” Bettencourt concluded.

A full statement will be issued next week.

Whatever. From a public service viewpoint, I think this timing is lousy, and newly-elected officials should be very reluctant to walk away from the commitment they made to the voters. From a political viewpoint, I’m more than happy to see him go. I hope we get someone who cares about voter registration in his place.

Bell on the air

Your daily reminder that the runoff election for SD17 is just around the corner:

Early voting for the runoff starts Monday. You can help get the vote out for Chris Bell. Among other things, you can sign up for virtual phonebanking. Having twelve Democratic Senators is a big deal and will do much good, but having thirteen really moves the ball forward – it’s a bigger cushion, it’s more seats at the table, it’s broader representation of progressive voices, and it’s a truer picture of what the electorate in Texas is like these days. Please do what you can to help make it happen. Thanks very much.

A message from the Bell campaign

You’ll be hearing more of this stuff through Runoff Day.

Early voting begins Monday in the Senate District 17 special election runoff, so join Team Bell this weekend to turn out the vote for Chris Bell! Each of our five Bell campaign headquarters offices across the district will be block walking and phone banking Saturday and Sunday, so contact the office closest to you to learn more. Those of you planning to join us at the Braeswood headquarters will be volunteering alongside our wonderful State Representative, Ellen Cohen! She will be block walking with Chris and his wife, Alison, at 2 p.m. Saturday, so sign up today to join them.

We have been fortunate to receive such a generous outpouring of support. Your time and money will make the difference in this election, and we appreciate your efforts. It is crucial for us to continue to fill our offices to capacity with volunteers, but we also need a little help keeping up with the increased volume. Team Bell needs water, snacks, paper, and other office supplies, so please drop your donations at the campaign office closest to you.

If you’re looking for other ways to help, we also need short-term housing for out-of-town volunteers and students who are making the trip to District 17 to help Chris. Contact Lindsay Hagans at 713-667-8990 or lindsay@chrisbell.com if you’re interested in housing a Bell supporter.

We have less than two weeks left until the Dec. 16 election day, so let’s push hard to the finish!

As a reminder, here are the Early Voting locations for Harris and Fort Bend counties. Let’s get this one across the finish line, folks. If we want to make some real progress on pressing issues like education and health care, we need the right people in government for the job. That’s Chris Bell, and we can make it happen if we can get our voters to turn out. Thanks very much.

Precinct analysis: Go west, young candidate

If you’ve looked at a red/blue map of Harris County for this election, you’ve noticed that the Democrats by and large dominate the center, stretching south and southwest towards Fort Bend, whereas it’s all red around the remaining edges. The Dems have been working their way outward, as the GOP’s Anglo base has moved farther out and a more diverse population has filled in behind them, with the greatest inroads being made to the west of Loop 610 and the Beltway, as you can see by those big blue dots near Katy. I’ve talked about how this can and should lead to opportunities to win more State House seats, but there’s more to it than that. The 2011 reapportionment will likely bring a new Congressional seat to the western part of Harris County. It’s also conceivable that Harris could get more State Rep seats as well, if its share of the state population is sufficiently high.

But even if neither of those things were to happen, West Harris County is where the action will be in the coming years, and if I were an aspiring politician, I’d look hard at the population trends and figure out where the prime electoral possibilities will be in the next couple of cycles. One prize in particular I’d keep my eye on is County Commissioner’s Court, Precinct 3, now held by long-term incumbent Steve Radack. Let’s see what the numbers looked like in Radack’s precinct this year:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 152,697 47.46 Sharp 137,327 43.53 Henley 135,406 43.48 Stone 135,208 43.26 Houston 134,911 43.20 Obama 142,251 42.90 Noriega 135,953 42.37 Handy 127,460 39.93

I didn’t compute averages this time; the numbers cited are for the high scorers among the state, appeals, and county judicial candidates, plus the top countywide performer not named Adrian Garcia. It’s not a surprise that Dexter Handy, a first-time candidate with little money running against one of the best-known and longest-serving incumbents in the county, didn’t do as well as the rest of the slate. What should be a surprise is how well the average Democrat ran in this precinct, which has long been a Republican stronghold. I’ve talked about that at length, but the point here is that it’s not just in the smaller districts where things are getting competitive. These things add up, and they’re adding up in Precinct 3. We need to look at it in a different light now.

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that how Adrian Garcia did in any given area is a benchmark of what is possible for Democrats there. I also don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that in four years’ time, if current trends hold, his high-water marks will be more like the average. Now imagine that Radack finally makes good on his oft-stated desire to retire in 2012, and think about what an open-seat race to replace him might look like. Given that Ed Emmett has to be considered a favorite to retain the County Judge’s office in 2010, this may be the Democrats’ best chance to finally gain a majority on Commissioners Court; given the nature of the Commissioners’ offices, it would be an enduring majority as well. Maybe it’s time to start thinking about who ought to consider running for that office in four years. It can’t be too early to start consolidating support.

While you’re pondering that, consider the numbers in Justice of the Peace/Constable Precinct 5, which falls almost entirely within CC Precint 3:

Candidate Votes Pct ======================== Garcia 145,203 49.23 Sharp 130,912 45.27 Henley 129,135 45.21 Stone 129,200 45.08 Houston 128,927 45.05 Obama 135,308 44.56 Noriega 129,831 44.19 Pearson 125,477 43.18 Rene 123,752 43.17

The offices of JP and Constable aren’t nearly as sexy as County Commissioner seats, but they too tend to be enduring, and as they cover a lot of ground and put you in contact with a lot of people, they can be springboards to higher offices, as former-JP-turned-Rep. Al Green can attest. I’ve no idea what incumbent JP Russ Ridgway’s or Constable Phil Camus’ future plans are, but they may well face a very challenging environment in 2012. Like Dexter Handy, 2008 candidates Peter Rene (who ran against Ridgway) and Sam Pearson (who garnered the Chron endorsement in his run against Camus) ran good races in a couple of overlooked spots, and showed what’s possible out this way. Now that we know this, let’s not forget it when the next chance comes along.

That other recount

In addition to HD105, there was a recount in the HD11 race in East Texas, where incumbent Democrat Rep. Chuck Hopson survived by 103 votes. That recount was concluded yesterday, but it seems to have raised more questions than it answered.

A vote recount requested by his opponent, Brian K. Walker (R-Tatum) was held Monday and Tuesday in the four counties comprising District 11. Rep. Hopson (D-Jacksonville) gained nine votes in the recount, excluding Cherokee County.

The vote recount in Cherokee County returned odd numbers that officials are at a loss to explain. Mr. Hopson lost 29 votes and Mr. Walker lost 121 votes.

And in a race that separated the two candidates by just 103 votes, the Cherokee County margin of error is significant.

Cherokee County Clerk Laverne Lusk, who was contacted at home at press deadline Tuesday, said that Mr. Walker lost 121 votes, and that Mr. Hopson lost 29.

“We are shocked that there were this many votes different,” said Mrs. Lusk. “I don’t know if this is from early voting or precinct voting. I won’t know until we look at the reports from election night.

“Tomorrow, we will go over the numbers and see where it came from.”

The recount in Cherokee County was overseen by a representative of the Secretary of State’s office. Mrs. Lusk said the SOS representative agreed with the final number on the recount.

The recount process concluded after 5 p.m. Tuesday in Cherokee County was the only one which required two days. It is also the only county that returned results significantly different from the first count on election night.

Before the vote recount is official, it must be certified by county judges in Cherokee, Rusk, Houston and Panola counties and canvassed by Gov. Rick Perry.

The process could be concluded by the end of the week.

[…]

Mr. Walker carried Panola and Rusk counties during the General Election. In the Monday recount in Panola County, Mr. Walker’s vote tally remained unchanged. Rep. Hopson’s total was one ballot less than the machine count had originally indicated.

“Susan Potts, an attorney for Brian K. Walker, requested copies of the provisional ballot envelopes, rejected mail-out ballot envelopes, applications and rejection letters and 72 ballots that she had questions about,” said Cheyenne Lampley, election administrator in Panola County. “In the majority of those ballots that were requested, the voter had voted a straight party but then voted in a different party in the district 11 race. All 72 ballots were counted and included in the recount.”

In the Rusk County recount which concluded at approximately 4 p.m. Monday, Mr. Walker lost 14 votes during the recount. The vote discrepancy in that recount stems from “limited ballots.” Kathy Wittner, election coordinator, explained that those ballots are designed to allow a voter who moves to a new county to vote during early on races that include only federal and statewide elections.

Ms. Wittner explained that state law does not require limited ballots to be counted by hand. If the paper ballots are scanned and if the voter marks local races, they are counted like regular ballots. Only a recount by hand can reveal this type of discrepancy.

The Houston County recount concluded at approximately 7 p.m. Monday. County Clerk Bridget Lamb said that in the recount, Mr. Walker gained four votes, Rep. Hopson had no change and the Libertarian candidate, Paul Bryan, lost two votes.

Weird. No word as yet as to whether the Walker campaign has conceded or will continue to fight. The next step would be an election contest, to be adjudicated by the House. Wouldn’t that add an extra layer of drama on top of the ongoing chaos? Thanks to Trail Blazers for the heads up. The AusChron has more.

HD105 recount lawsuit moves to federal court

As the official recount in HD105 gets underway, the Texas Democratic Party has filed a new lawsuit in federal court to require that so-called “emphasis votes” be counted.

The Texas Democratic Party filed a federal voting-rights lawsuit against Dallas County elections officials, accusing them of violating federal laws by not counting certain votes from electronic voting machines in the recount.

“Win or lose, this has always been about protecting Texans’ votes,” state Democratic Party chairman Boyd Richie said in a prepared statement. “We need to make absolutely sure that every legal vote is counted, as anything less amounts to disenfranchisement and cannot be allowed to stand.”

Republicans accused their counterparts of manipulative legal maneuvering.

“Their motivation is not to have valid votes counted,” said Wade Emmert, a Republican attorney. “Their motivation is to take away the voice of those who have already voted.”

In the federal suit, Democrats ask for a temporary restraining order that would require county elections officials to count for each candidate the straight-party votes on electronic voting machines not tallied during the initial count. As an alternative, the lawsuit asks a federal court to void the Nov. 4 results and order a new election for the seat, which has statewide political ramifications.

The previous lawsuit was thrown out of state court by Dallas District Court Judge Jim Jordan, who ruled in response to a motion filed by the Republican Party that he did not have jurisdiction. I still disagree the TDP’s arguments in this case. What I’d ultimately like to see result from this is better and more uniform standards for electronic voting machine interfaces, so that any confusion about the nature of straight party ballots can be minimized, and for the machines to be required to print out a paper receipt, with the allowance that you can still make changes to your selections after you’ve had a chance to inspect the receipt. That’s up to the Lege, and it won’t happen any time soon, if ever. I’m hoping this will be a catalyst.

Precinct analysis: Even in his own back yard

The following comparison comes out of a conversation I had yesterday with Greg and the realization that it hasn’t gotten anywhere near the attention I think it deserves. I’m talking about the result out in House Speaker Tom Craddick’s district, HD82, which covers Crane, Dawson, Martin, Midland, and Upton counties. This is, needless to say, one of the most Republican parts of the state. Look at the 2006 election results (PDF) for the district; at a quick glance, it’s hard to tell the difference between races with a Republican and a Democrat, and the races with a Republican and a Libertarian. This year, Craddick, who had a Democratic challenger for the first time in forever in Bill Dingus, won with a smidge more than 62% of the vote to Dingus’ 35% (there was a Lib as well). That may not seem very interesting, but consider this:

County Craddick Dingus McCain Obama ======================================== Crane 821 483 1,119 319 Dawson 2,483 1,283 2,906 1,152 Martin 711 893 1,389 314 Midland 28,526 15,798 36,155 9,691 Upton 661 413 898 288 Totals 33,302 18,870 42,467 11,764

Call me crazy, but that looks like an awful lot of Republican voters – about 7 or 8 thousand of them – who crossed over to vote for Dingus. Remember, this is Tom “Speaker For Life” Craddick, arguably the most powerful politician in Texas, who has represented this district for 40 years we are talking about. And lest you think this is some skewed result that just shows West Texas antipathy to Barack Obama, here’s a few more comparisons:

County Craddick Dingus Cornyn Noriega ========================================= Crane 821 483 990 319 Dawson 2,483 1,283 2,742 1,064 Martin 711 893 1,252 343 Midland 28,526 15,798 35,514 8,798 Upton 661 413 830 255 Totals 33,302 18,870 41,328 10,779 County Craddick Dingus Williams Thompson =========================================== Crane 821 483 857 394 Dawson 2,483 1,283 2,366 1,214 Martin 711 893 1,142 371 Midland 28,526 15,798 34,736 8,857 Upton 661 413 716 294 Totals 33,302 18,870 39,817 11,130 County Craddick Dingus Wainwright Houston ============================================ Crane 821 483 797 412 Dawson 2,483 1,283 2,275 1,275 Martin 711 893 1,056 394 Midland 28,526 15,798 33,032 9,752 Upton 661 413 671 305 Totals 33,302 18,870 37,831 12,138 County Craddick Dingus Johnson Yanez ========================================= Crane 821 483 834 398 Dawson 2,483 1,283 2,439 1,169 Martin 711 893 1,104 376 Midland 28,526 15,798 33,426 9,367 Upton 661 413 686 293 Totals 33,302 18,870 38,489 11,603

No matter how you slice it, other Republicans get thousands more votes than Craddick. And the effect is by far the strongest in Craddick’s home county of Midland, where apparently to know him is not necessarily to love him.

And just to prove that this is a recent phenomenon, here’s Craddick versus Bush in 2004:

County Craddick Bush ========================= Crane 1,121 1,314 Dawson 2,779 3,419 Martin 1,107 1,514 Midland 36,373 36,585 Upton 857 1,009 Totals 42,237 43,841

Craddick was unopposed that year; Bush may as well have been in those counties. Ah, Midland. What did Tommy ever do to you?

Anyway. I point all this out, apparently just as the arm-twisting efforts on Craddick’s behalf are being ramped up, so that the next time you hear a Craddick acolyte, like Rep. Will Hartnett or Burnet County Republican Linda Rogers, president of Texas Republican county chairmen, claim that opposition to Craddick is all about “liberals”, you ask them to explain those good, solid Republicans in Midland and the rest of HD82 who voted to oust him from the House. Maybe, just maybe, it’s possible to be a Republican and to think Tom Craddick is bad for Texas, too.

Early voting locations for the SD17 runoff

Early voting for the SD17 special election runoff begins one week from today, and runs from the 8th to the 12th of December, with Runoff Day itself being two weeks from tomorrow, the 16th. Perry and Hal have early voting location information for Harris and Fort Bend counties, while Hal also has precinct voting locations in Fort Bend for the 16th. If you are in SD17, it is vitally important that you get yourself to the polls and cast that one last vote of 2008 for Chris Bell. They’re not making this easy – early voting runs from 8 to 4:30 Monday through Wednesday in Harris County, 7 to 7 on Thursday and Friday. Consider that a little extra motivation if you need it, or remind yourself that while twelve is good, thirteen is better. Whatever moves you, just make sure you vote for Chris Bell. Thanks very much.

Precinct analysis: It’s Gene Green’s world

I know I’ve said that there’s little variation across the county in candidate performances (the races in which Republicans won excepted, of course), but there is at least one glaring example I can come up with: Rep. Gene Green in CD29. Here’s how his percentages stack up:

Candidate Votes Pct ============================== Green 79,543 75.76 Garcia 76,925 72.50 Noriega 71,886 68.64 State D 69,754 68.23 Appeals D 69,230 67.26 Judicial D 68,796 67.08 Obama 66,576 62.02

“State D” is the average total of the six statewide candidates other than Rick Noriega; “Appeals D” is the average total of the six candidates for an appeals court bench; “Judicial D” is the average total of the 27 candidates for a Harris County bench. Gene Green is the first Democrat I’ve come across who outperformed Adrian Garcia in any subset of Harris County. That’s mighty impressive. He also garnered more votes (53,149 to 48,188) than Sen. Mario Gallegos in their shared precincts, giving him 77.10% to Gallegos’ 71.48%. Note that I’m still working with the draft canvass data, so I’m going to be off by a handful of tallies here and there. But it’s close enough for these purposes.

The spread between Green and Obama is remarkable, but not surprising given that Green’s district covers the five State Rep districts in which Obama lagged the rest of the ticket. What this says to me is that Green appealed equally well to all different types of voters in his district, including presuably some who mostly if not exclusively voted Republican otherwise. You just have to salute that.

Now, I didn’t actually set out to do an analysis of CD29, since that hadn’t looked to me to be a particularly interesting subset of the county. I stumbled across this remarkable achievement by Rep. Green while I was taking a look at HD144, where Democrat Joel Redmond suffered a close loss to Republican Ken Legler for that open seat. HD144 is about 80% in CD22, and about 20% in CD29. Here’s how Redmond stacked up against other Democrats in each of those parts of the district:

CD22 Candidate Votes Pct ========================== Garcia 15,595 49.65 Redmond 15,208 48.37 Lampson 14,527 46.97 Noriega 13,866 44.42 State D 13,397 44.23 Appeals D 13,348 43.72 Judicial D 13,091 43.08 Obama 12,897 40.14 CD29 Candidate Votes Pct ========================== Green 4,217 56.51 Garcia 4,044 53.36 Redmond 3,838 50.79 State D 3,542 48.59 Appeals D 3,550 48.11 Noriega 3,569 47.64 Judicial D 3,473 47.24 Obama 3,270 42.51

Redmond did about as well as you could want, but fell just short. For what it’s worth, if he’d done exactly as well as Gene Green in the CD29 portion of the district, he’d still have fallen short, by less than 100 votes. I suspect we’d be knee-deep in a recount by now if that were the case. In any event, the disparity between Gene Green and everyone who shared the ballot with him just fascinates me. If I had a magic wand to wave, I would use it to commission a study of the voters in CD29 to try to get a better understanding of who these “Gene Green Republicans” are and what (if anything) could be done to get them to vote for a few more Democrats. This isn’t a turnout issue – I hope I have sufficiently flogged the point that we did just fine on this score – it’s a persuasion issue, and in this case I daresay a couple of judges and perhaps the DAs office hung on it. Let’s not overlook potential avenues for improvement there.

Be careful what you’re thankful for

Lisa Falkenberg has a mostly humorous column about what local Republicans are thankful for these days. One bit just stands out like a sore thumb:

Nearly everybody said they were thankful for 2010. And 2012. And any election year that could lead to redemption for Republicans.

If Democrats couldn’t sweep in the midst of Obamarama, how are they going to do it in 2010, asked Clint Moore, a Republican precinct chair for 20 years.

“I guarantee you in 2012, the bloom is going to be off Obama’s rose and he’s not going to be the Messiah that a lot of them consider him to be,” said Moore, a 52-year-old geologist.

If you really think that 2008 was an Obama-assisted fluke, then I doubt there’s any amount of precinct data and comparisons to 2004 that can change your mind. So let me just say that I’m thankful for Republican precinct chairs who think like Clint Moore. If that’s the prevailing mindset on their side of the aisle, I feel good already about what 2010 will be like.

The state of the Speaker’s race in a nutshell

This sounds about right.

House Speaker Tom Craddick’s critics say they’ve got enough signed pledges against him to make his re-election all but impossible.

But Craddick’s opponents have yet to coalesce around a challenger seeking to replace him, ensuring that behind-the-scenes jockeying for one of the most coveted political offices in Texas could continue right up until the Legislature convenes Jan. 13.

If this were a retention election, like some states have for judges, I feel confident that Tom Craddick would be voted out. The problem is that this is basically a multi-candidate special election, and under any scenario I can think of at this time, Craddick will have more votes than any of his eight or so challengers. I don’t know if House rules require a majority or not, but even if it goes to a runoff, I have to think he’d be enough people’s second choice to hang on to his office. More simply put, as Patricia Kilday Hart noted in a nice overview of the Speaker’s race, “You can’t vote for speaker a guy named ‘Anybody But Craddick'”. I hate to say it, but until it’s Craddick versus one consensus candidate, not Tom Craddick Versus The World, he’s the favorite.

[Rep. Burt Solomons, R-Carrollton, a former Craddick ally who recently announced his own candidacy for speaker,] said he has about 15 members who are ready to emerge publicly as his “second wave” once it becomes evident he can be elected speaker.

“They just want to feel comfortable that there can be life after Tom. That’s all there is to it,” Solomons said. “It’s not as if they dislike Tom. It’s not as if they want to hang him on a tree. But they also understand where we are, here. A lot of that is sinking in now because of the reality of the numbers.”

Solomons won’t say how many of his GOP colleagues make up his first wave of support.

“I have enough to make it clear that Tom can’t win, but when they stand up, it makes it more clear,” he said. “I think we are two or three weeks away from getting this thing decided.”

That sounds a lot like the old newsgroup claim that the lurkers support me in email. I’m skeptical of Solomons’ statement because I’d bet that other Speaker hopefuls could say the same thing to some degree. I hope one of them is right, but until members put their cards on the table and make their intentions known, it’s all wishful thinking.

The twelfth Senator

The Star Telegram talks about what the election of Wendy Davis to the State Senate means.

With Davis, they now have 12 members — one more than the 11 votes needed to block legislation in the 31-member Senate — and hope to expand to what they would consider a lucky 13 if Chris Bell wins a runoff for a Houston-area seat.

[…]

Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, D-San Antonio, who has led Senate Democrats since 2003, said that senators from both parties traditionally put the interests of their districts above partisanship, with Democrats and Republicans often coalescing along rural-urban lines or forming blocs based on particular issues.

Nevertheless, she said, “there are a few core what I’d call non-negotiables for Senate Democrats.” She said they will be “absolutely united” against any attempt to revive a voter identification bill, a measure Democrats blocked last year in a confrontation with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, the Senate’s Republican presiding officer.

Other non-negotiables, she said, would include legislation that Democrats perceive as attempts to weaken the state’s public education system or diminish voting rights. Moreover, she said, Democrats are likely to “congeal” around other issues such as insurance, healthcare and consumer protection.

[…]

Sen. Kirk Watson, D-Austin, who grew up in Saginaw, said that Democrats, with their strengthened bargaining position, might refuse to support certain items in the budget unless they have assurances that state children’s health programs will be fully funded to their satisfaction.

The new Senate configuration also dilutes conservative Republican control of the chamber, Watson said, and creates “a greater opportunity” for bipartisan cooperation. “It swings power back toward the center — not all the way there, but it moves it in that direction,” he said.

The Senate requires a two-thirds vote to bring up legislation, meaning 11 senators can stop a bill from coming to the floor. Davis’ added vote makes it easier for Democrats to forge a bill-stopping bloc.

In particular, it makes the caucus less dependent on the health of Sen. Mario Gallegos and the transitory goodwill of Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; you may recall Dewhurst’s attempt to pull a fast one last year when Sen. Carlos Uresti was home sick. Davis’ presence gives them some slack. It also means they’re less dependent on the whims of Sen. Eddie Lucio, who wasn’t exactly a model of dependability. All these are very good things. Given the budget battles that are likely to come up next year, having more leverage and one more voice for progressive principles will be huge.

And of course, we can still do better than that. If having twelve Democratic Senators is good, having thirteen would be super. That means doing whatever needs to be done to get Chris Bell elected on December 16. If we’re really lucky, this will be the last legislative session with Rick Perry as Governor. Wouldn’t it be great if it was with the most Democratic legislature he’s had to face since his first term? Please go visit Chris Bell.com and see what you can do to help. Thanks very much.

Finally, you have to wonder if the Democratic establishment up in North Texas isn’t kicking itself over a couple of missed opportunities to make even bigger inroads in the Senate. Sen. Chris Harris, whose district covers parts of Dallas, Denton, and Tarrant counties, won with an unimpressive 54% of the vote against a complete non-entity named Melvin Willms. One can only imagine what might have happened had he faced a challenger of Wendy Davis’ qualities and resources. I can’t wait to get statewide precinct data to see what might have been there. And in Dallas County, Sen. John Carona was re-elected with 56.3% against Rain Minns, who I thought was smart and ambitious, but also young and way underfunded. Given how much more Democratic Dallas is these days, you’d think Carona (and for that matter, US Rep. Pete Sessions) would have had a bigger target on his back, but it wasn’t to be. 2012, anyone?

There’s a new Sheriff in town

Have I mentioned lately how glad I am that Sheriff-elect Adrian Garcia administered such a thorough butt-kicking to Tommy Thomas? Apparently, Thomas has not been particularly gracious or professional in defeat.

Garcia soundly beat Tommy Thomas by 12 points on election night after a bitter campaign. As we first reported, Thomas never called Garcia afterwards. And while Garcia calls his one meeting since with Thomas cordial, it hasn’t exactly been easy for Garcia to get vital information out of him. Last week he asked Sheriff Thomas for key documents about spending and the jail investigation.

“I have not received them,” Garcia said. “It concerns me, but we’re moving forward.”

Stay classy, Tommy. In the end, this won’t matter much – unlike, say, the Presidential transition, the things that need to be dealt with in the Sheriff’s office can wait a couple of weeks. What’s important is that the change is coming, and everyone knows it. Even if Tommy Thomas doesn’t want to do anything about it.

HD105 litigation update

The recount in HD105 can now begin, according to a Dallas district court judge, who ruled he did not have the jurisdiction to act on the Democratic lawsuit over “emphasis votes”.

State District Judge Jim Jordan on Tuesday said legal questions over how best to conduct a recount in the House District 105 race should be addressed. But, he said, his court wasn’t the correct venue for it.

“I was looking forward to this case,” Judge Jordan said in ruling that only an appellate court or the state Supreme Court has jurisdiction. “It has some interesting issues I would have enjoyed working with. And it has issues that need dealing with.”

Judge Jordan issued his jurisdictional ruling after hearing all the evidence and testimony in the case that centers on two hot-button election issues – straight-party voting and electronic voting machines.

Democratic Party attorneys, who filed the suit Friday, said they had not decided whether they would appeal the ruling.

Unless another court gets involved, Dallas County elections officials will begin the recount Monday in the District 105 race using the most recent instructions issued directly to them by the Texas secretary of state’s office. Those say that “deselected” or “emphasis” votes from electronic machines should not be counted.

[…]

Among the arguments presented during two days of testimony were whether the secretary of state should be a party to the suit, whether any “emphasis” or “deselected” votes existed and what orders Judge Jordan would have been able to hand down if he did have jurisdiction.

Judge Jordan said Tuesday that if a higher court rules that he does have jurisdiction, he has already weighed testimony, evidence and arguments about the case itself.

“I’m ready to rule if they kick it back,” he said.

I’d like to see someone address these issues, too, though ideally it would be the Legislature. In the meantime, let’s get this recount going.

Precinct analysis: Some other views

I’m going to take a holiday break from the precinct data, but don’t worry, I’ve got more stuff in the works. And yes, Peter Wang, I promise to do an analysis of the Steve Radack-Dexter Handy race. In the meantime, here are a few other views of the data:

Marc Campos has some pie charts that show voting behavior in Harris County in precincts that are 70% or more Anglo, black, and Hispanic. As someone who’s been digging through precinct data for days and days now, I don’t think it told me much that I didn’t already know, but it’s interesting to look at anyway. If you prefer pictures to all the numbers I’ve been throwing at you, you’ll appreciate these charts, so check them out.

Meanwhile, new BOR front-pager Katherine Haenschen takes a look at the counties that had the greatest increase in Democratic votes over 2004. I covered some of this earlier, but she goes into some more depth, and sees some new things. I’m glad the idea that Democrats made gains in places you wouldn’t have expected is being more widely recognized. She’s got more number-crunching in the works, so keep an eye on it.

And finally, Greg breaks down the Harris County vote into City of Houston/non-City of Houston components. A bigger share of the vote inside city limits like we saw this year would be a very nice thing to continue to have.

HD105 recount litigation

The recount in HD105 has not gotten started yet, but there’s plenty of courtroom action in the meantime.

The crux of the Dallas County case involves straight-party voting on electronic voting machines. When someone votes a straight-party ticket but then also selects the name of a candidate within that party in a particular race, electronic machines “deselect” that candidate. If no other candidate is chosen, no vote is counted in that race.

On paper ballots, however, if someone votes a straight-party ticket and then selects a candidate from that party in a particular race, the vote for that candidate still counts. Democrats call this “emphasis voting” in both paper ballot and electronic machine voting.

Attorneys for the Democratic Party this week said the state’s election law instructs officials to count those votes.

A memo from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office to Dallas County elections officials last week said that deselected or emphasis votes from electronic machines should not be counted.

But an earlier memo to all Texas elections administrators and county clerks said to count emphasis votes. That October memo did not indicate whether state officials were referring to paper ballots, electronic voting machines or both.

On Monday, Republican attorneys accused Democrats of trying to use the courts to contest the election results when that can be done only in front of the state House – typically after a recount.

“It just goes to show why it’s important to have this type of discussion after the … [recount] rather than before,” said Wade Emmert, who is representing Ms. Harper-Brown.

I actually think it would have been better to have had this argument before we started voting, so that everyone understood the rules going in and so that interested parties could try to better educate voters about the procedures, but it’s too late for that now. I suspect what Mr. Emmert means is that this should be done during an election contest, when an appointed chairperson could interview the “emphasis voters” and try to ascertain their intent. We may yet endure that scenario.

Phillip and KT have been discussing the legal aspects of this. While I respect Phillip’s arguments, I don’t agree with them. I say this because for the first time in my life, I pushed the straight-ticket Democratic button this year. I then went to one specific race, and de-selected the Democratic candidate in that race. This was not an “emphasis” vote, it was a deliberate and intentional choice on my part to not cast a vote for that particular candidate. I don’t know what kind of e-voting machines they use in Dallas, but here in Harris taking this action caused a screen to pop up informing me that I was causing that vote to go away. It’s certainly possible that someone could dismiss that screen without understanding it, but it was there, and it was more than I had expected. That makes me highly skeptical of this argument. KT sees it the same way.

While I agree that this is a poor time for the Secretary of State to announce these different interpretations of the law for paper (absentee) ballots versus electronic ones, it seems to me there really is a fundamental difference in the two types of ballot. Checking the straight-ticket box on a paper ballot simply marks one box. I can totally understand how someone, seeing the vast swath of unchecked boxes that follow, could want to go to a particular race and literally or metaphorically underline a candidate they really like. With the eSlate, at least here in Harris, clicking the “straight ticket” button fills in the box of every candidate of that party on the ballot. An “emphasis vote” here, in addition to the aforementioned warning screen, blanks out the box for that candidate; the summary screen at the end also informs you that you made no selection in that race. I’m sorry, but the most charitable thing I could say about someone who did all that and walked away assuming they had voted for the person in question is that they are unobservant. I have a real hard time accepting the argument that they intended to cast a vote in the race given these conditions.

Now, this is not to say that we couldn’t do a better job with e-voting machine interfaces. Maybe when you cast a straight-party vote, it should gray everything out, inform you that you have cast a vote for every member of that party on the ballot, then ask you if 1) you want to undo any of those votes, and 2) if you want to add votes in races where there wasn’t a candidate from your party; if you answer “no” to each, it takes you straight to the finish line. That at least would clear up the intent issue once and for all. But I still don’t think that intent is in question here, at least not based on what I’ve seen so far. Maybe the courtroom arguments will sway me, I don’t know. I look forward to hearing them.

UPDATE: I mistakenly misrepresented KT’s argument, which was the opposite of Phillip’s. The post has been updated to reflect that.

Precinct analysis: The microcosm

If studying all the precinct data for Harris County seems too daunting, you can get a pretty good representation of the county in a smaller scale by studying HD133, where Rep.-elect Kristi Thibaut unseated freshman Rep. Jim Murphy in a rematch of 2006. With one lone exception, the result in HD133 mirrored the countywide result for every single Democrat that was on the ballot; the exceptional case was for the 333rd Civil Court, where Democrat Goodwille Pierre nipped Judge Tad Halbach in the district. No other district I’ve looked at comes anywhere near to this similarity.

There’s another aspect in which HD133 offers a good lesson on Harris County as a whole, and that’s in the matter of turnout, especially when compared to 2006. To illustrate, let’s look at how Thibaut did in each year. There’s not that many precincts in HD133, so we can look at them individually. Unlike some other districts, HD133 is basically split between CDs 07 and 09, with Westheimer being a dividing line through the district separating the 7th to the north and the 9th to the south. Here’s a look at the precincts in each CD from 2006:

CD07 - 2006 Pcnct Votes Turnout Murphy Thibaut T Pct T Margin ====================================================== 130 1295 54.09 918 320 25.85 -598 356 1249 39.51 786 386 32.94 -400 395 901 49.32 608 246 28.81 -362 437 1100 50.39 766 255 24.98 -511 438 1023 54.71 737 246 25.03 -491 483 1576 34.58 884 598 40.35 -286 492 1029 36.55 652 328 33.47 -324 493 862 45.46 581 242 29.40 -339 499 1267 54.15 896 321 26.38 -575 504 1176 51.47 777 348 30.93 -429 625 856 44.75 501 303 37.69 -198 626 1102 36.83 598 428 41.72 -170 706 182 33.09 103 65 38.69 -38 727 513 19.96 193 280 59.20 87 Total 14,131 41.93 9000 4366 32.66 -4634 CD09 - 2006 Pcnct Votes Turnout Murphy Thibaut T Pct T Margin ====================================================== 96 209 16.76 40 153 79.27 113 338 1067 23.96 355 636 64.18 281 429 823 20.64 230 536 69.97 306 487 653 19.87 216 393 64.53 177 503 349 24.15 105 215 67.19 110 508 846 26.81 261 518 66.50 257 559 707 20.75 238 410 63.27 172 565 517 14.14 101 391 79.47 290 620 1500 28.45 741 660 47.11 -81 765 950 26.55 399 467 53.93 68 Total 7621 22.76 2686 4379 61.98 1693

You wouldn’t realize it if you just looked at the number of votes cast, but there were actually a few more registered voters in the CD09 half of the district as there were in the CD07 half – 33,490 in CD09 and 33,353 in CD07. But in 2006, the voters in the precincts that largely favored Thibaut stayed home in droves, and she lost by what looked like a large margin, 57.2% to 42.8% using two party numbers. That was close to the average countywide performance, which was 58.0% for the GOP and 42.0% in HD133 for the Dems. It was clear that this wasn’t really representative of the district (or the county), and that Thibaut would get a boost from the fact that 2008 was a Presidential year. I did a back-of-the-envelope calculation by applying 2004 turnout numbers to each precinct, and assigning it the same percentage of the vote for each candidate, and estimated Thibaut would net between 46 and 47 percent of the vote under those conditions. Given that everyone expected more robust Democratic turnout this year compared to 2004, it was fair to assume the race would be close to even, before anyone did any campaigning.

Well, it was that and then some. Compare to 2008:

CD07 - 2008 Pcnct Votes Turnout Murphy Thibaut T Pct T Margin ====================================================== 130 1858 78.90 1383 410 22.87 -973 356 2136 71.65 1245 811 39.45 -434 395 1333 74.43 910 376 29.24 -534 437 1527 73.41 1097 371 25.27 -726 438 1379 77.70 1058 276 20.69 -782 483 2784 64.59 1381 1283 48.16 -98 492 1750 67.15 988 705 41.64 -283 493 1321 72.90 876 388 30.70 -488 499 1810 79.74 1346 410 23.35 -936 504 1688 75.42 1172 473 28.75 -699 625 1330 72.48 798 474 37.26 -324 626 1905 67.43 968 867 47.25 -101 706 342 63.10 174 155 47.11 -29 727 1430 62.83 409 964 70.21 555 Total 22,593 71.24 13,805 7963 36.58 -5842 CD09 - 2008 Pcnct Votes Turnout Murphy Thibaut T Pct T Margin ====================================================== 96 698 62.04 72 600 89.29 528 338 2463 54.86 735 1540 67.69 805 429 2164 55.20 469 1574 77.04 1105 487 1576 50.08 484 997 67.32 513 503 729 51.52 234 450 65.79 216 508 1740 56.92 594 1045 63.76 451 559 2092 64.63 491 1492 75.24 1001 565 1569 46.52 233 1274 84.54 1041 620 3913 67.71 1738 1965 53.07 227 765 2216 60.56 827 1246 60.11 419 Total 19,610 59.06 5877 12,183 67.46 6306

Now this begins to look like a district with an even partisan distribution of voters. In fact, CD09 increased its advantage in registrations to 33,402 to 31,712, but thanks to its near-tripling of turnout over 2006, it actually looks like it’s of equivalent size. The CD07 precincts jumped by 75%, but that wasn’t enough to hold the seat for Murphy. The rising Democratic tide swamped his boat. And that was reflected across the county.

All this is easy to see, and to my mind provides a quick and dirty refutation of Dave Mann’s thesis that the Democratic Party in Harris County somehow failed to turn its voters out, but a closer look reveals something else. Thibaut increased her margin in each precinct in CD09, which included flipping Precinct 620 from red to blue. She also cut into Murphy’s margin in four of the CD07 precincts – 483, 492, 626, and 706 – while building on the lead in 727. I don’t want to reduce this to one precinct, but the gain Thibaut made in 727, which remember is in CD07, is greater than her margin of victory. Obviously, she needed the huge boost she got in the CD09 precincts, which is what everyone expected to happen. The point I’m making, the recurring theme throughout this election, is that she didn’t make it on gains in Democratic districts alone. She needed the help she got in the CD07 precincts where she gained as well. At the county level, or in this microcosm of the county, that’s the story of this election.

More swearing-in ceremonies

In addition to Loren Jackson, our new District Clerk, two more Democratic candidates who won elections to fill unexpired terms will be sworn into office this week. One is Judge Kathy Stone, who was elected to replace the late Judge Russell Austin in Probate Court #1. Via email from her campaign:

I will be officially sworn in on Wednesday, November 26 at 12:00 noon in Probate Court No. 1, 201 Caroline, 6th Floor. I hope to see you there.

And from Judge Robert Hinojosa, who was elected to serve the remaining term for Family District Court 312:

I am pleased to announce that I will be sworn in as Judge of the 312th Family District Court this coming Saturday, November 29th at 3 p.m., in the Great Hall of Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas Avenue, entrance on San Jacinto.

Congratulations to Judges Stone and Hinojosa!

Precinct analysis: What we’ve learned so far

The final cumulative and canvass reports are out. I’ve been working off of a draft canvass, which did not include provisional ballots, so if you compare those numbers to mine you’ll find a few differences here and there. Shouldn’t be off by more than a handful of votes, but just so you know.

I’ve been poring through the data and will have a few more analyses to present before I call it quits on this, but the thing that has struck me about all of this is how little variation there is in candidate performances when you drill down. Adrian Garcia leads the pack wherever you look. The countywide candidates who did better overall do better at the district and precinct level. That seems intuitive and obvious, but I expected some regional variations, and for the most part I haven’t seen them. I also expected to see Democratic downballot candidates do better against the top of the ticket, which was the norm in 2004, but for the most part the differences haven’t been very great. That too was to be expected to some extent, but beyond the fact that Democrats clearly had less reason to stray, I think it also speaks to the success of the coordinated campaign’s message, which was to vote Democratic all the way down the line. With very few exceptions, each Democrat got about as many votes as the others. That was the point of the coordinated campaign, and by and large it worked.

Of course, it wasn’t enough to win everything, but given that the standard result for Democrats in Harris County had been to win nothing for over a decade, I don’t see much point in quibbling. I think we’ll see more of the same in 2010 and beyond, and it’ll be up to the Republicans to find a way to break through, as a few of them did this year.

To me, the main question that remains is whether the pattern we saw in early voting this year is the new norm or an aberration. It’s been funny to me to see people complain about how Harris Democrats “lost” Election Day this year, even as they were winning 27 of 34 countywide races and picking up a seat in the State House. It’s true – other than Garcia (again), every countywide Democrat got fewer votes on Election Day than their Republican opponent. The same was true in absentee balloting as well. But it didn’t matter, because the cushion they’d built up in early voting was enough to carry most of them across the finish line. And not to put too fine a point on it, but Democrats lost Election Day in 2004 as well. It’s just that they also lost early voting that year, too, by a larger margin so nobody noticed or cared. I’ll take what happened this year over what happened then, if you don’t mind.

Anyway. Here’s another interesting map from Matt Stiles, and a preview of the 2010 battlegrounds in Dallas from BOR. More analysis will be forthcoming here as well.

Precinct analysis: The Richmond Rail Effect 2008

Back in 2006, I did a series of posts that examined CD07 election results in the precincts surrounding Richmond Avenue and the route that was proposed at the time for that stretch of the Universities line to try and answer a question originally raised by Rich Connelly about whether support for rail on Richmond would be a loser in that area. My conclusion was not only did Jim Henley not lose votes to John Culberson in these precincts, he likely gained votes, and thus his support for rail on Richmond was an asset, not a liability. Even though rail was essentially a non-issue this year, I figured as long as I was knee-deep in precinct data, I might as well take a look back to see how Michael Skelly stacked up. Here’s the data for the last three elections:

2004 Pcnct Ballots Culb Pct Mrtnez Pct C/M Pct M/C Pct =============================================================== 39 1809 473 26.15% 1187 65.62% 28.49% 71.51% 60 1625 422 25.97% 1027 63.20% 29.12% 70.88% 123 866 236 27.25% 544 62.82% 30.26% 69.74% 139 1688 773 45.79% 767 45.44% 50.19% 49.81% 177 1024 635 62.01% 310 30.27% 67.20% 32.80% 178 1346 905 67.24% 328 24.37% 73.40% 26.60% 233 1597 837 52.41% 610 38.20% 57.84% 42.16% 569 1791 1065 59.46% 685 38.25% 60.86% 39.14% 802 237 46 19.41% 162 68.35% 22.12% 77.88% Total 11983 5392 45.00% 5620 46.90% 48.96% 51.04% 2006 Pcnct Ballots Culb Pct Henley Pct C/H Pct H/C Pct =============================================================== 39 1273 246 19.32% 958 75.26% 20.43% 79.57% 60 1050 202 19.24% 790 75.24% 20.36% 79.64% 123 513 117 22.81% 364 70.96% 24.32% 75.68% 139 1061 423 39.87% 564 53.16% 42.86% 57.14% 177 658 403 61.25% 237 36.02% 62.97% 37.03% 178 968 697 72.00% 231 23.86% 75.11% 24.89% 233 1583 791 49.97% 696 43.97% 53.19% 46.81% 569 1076 556 51.67% 454 42.19% 55.05% 44.95% 802 205 42 20.49% 149 72.68% 21.99% 78.01% Total 8387 3477 41.46% 4443 52.97% 43.90% 56.10% 2008 Pcnct Ballots Culb Pct Skelly Pct C/S Pct S/C Pct =============================================================== 39 1800 316 17.56% 1310 72.78% 19.43% 80.57% 60 1524 372 24.41% 1048 68.77% 26.20% 73.80% 123 913 222 24.32% 625 68.46% 26.21% 73.79% 139 1689 677 40.08% 921 54.53% 42.37% 57.63% 177 1076 587 54.55% 437 40.61% 57.32% 42.68% 178 1395 911 65.30% 452 32.40% 66.84% 33.16% 233 2844 1309 46.03% 1370 48.17% 48.86% 51.14% 569 2175 1075 49.43% 995 45.75% 51.93% 48.07% 802 208 47 22.60% 142 68.27% 24.87% 75.13% Total 13624 5516 40.49% 7300 53.58% 43.04% 56.96%

As before, “Pct” refers to the percent of the total ballot, which includes undervotes and votes for the Libertarian candidate. “C/x Pct” and “x/C Pct” are the straight-up Culberson versus Martinez/Henley/Skelly percentages. Precincts 39, 60, 123, and 802 are in Montrose, 178 is Afton Oaks, the epicenter of anti-rail activity back in the day, 177 and 569 are Lynn Park, Highland Village, and St. George’s Place, all of which border Afton Oaks, and 139 and 233 are Greenway Plaza.

Overall, there’s nothing too exciting here. Skelly lost a few points in 60, 123, and 802, but he had a pretty high standard to meet. He gained a little or more everywhere else, and flipped 233 to blue. He topped Henley by a small margin, with his biggest gains coming in Culberson’s strongest turf. Given Skelly’s gains in the district as a whole, that’s about what you’d expect.

So there you have it. I didn’t really have a point to make with this post, I just felt it needed to be included, at least before someone asked me about it. I figure that as there are still hurdles to be cleared for the Universities line, and construction is still at least a year away, this may become an issue again in 2010. Just keep these numbers in mind when Culberson or one of his proxies claims that he has the support of the voters in the area.

Precinct analysis: CD07

The race for Congressional District 7 was one of the top campaigns in Harris County this cycle. It attracted a lot of local and national interest, various polls showed it to be competitive, and there was a boatload of money spent on TV ads. In the end, the race was closer than it had been in previous years, but was still a double-digit win for incumbent John Culberson over challenger Michael Skelly, 56.95 to 43.05 in the straight-up R-versus-D matchup.

A lot of people thought Skelly would do better than this – I know I thought the final result would be closer. It’s important to remember, however, that CD07 was nobody’s idea of an even potentially competitive district four years ago, and that even in losing a lot of progress can be made. Let’s take a look at the numbers. Here’s how Skelly did in comparison to Barack Obama, Rick Noriega, Adrian Garcia, Jim Henley (who was on the ballot this time in a successful bid for HCDE Trustee), the average Democratic judicial candidate, and the Democratic State Rep candidate for the relevant districts:

Dist Obama Noriega Skelly Garcia Henley County StRep ====================================================== CD07 41.11 40.05 43.05 45.55 41.07 38.32 n/a 126 33.49 33.24 35.44 39.21 34.16 32.49 30.61 130 36.01 36.25 38.13 42.22 37.28 35.56 n/a 132 42.49 42.18 43.78 47.58 43.73 42.01 n/a 133 40.00 38.77 40.40 44.28 39.59 37.13 36.58 134 49.35 46.90 52.19 52.06 48.38 43.94 56.67 135 38.70 38.87 40.49 44.78 39.80 37.94 37.82 136 32.14 30.27 34.44 35.61 30.62 28.32 n/a 137 60.13 59.21 61.77 62.61 60.78 58.78 n/a 138 37.65 38.59 38.99 45.25 39.23 36.78 34.56 146 48.52 48.80 51.30 54.62 50.93 46.43 n/a 147 66.03 64.19 67.31 67.65 65.39 63.15 n/a 149 42.41 41.18 41.94 46.06 42.49 39.89 39.05

Other than Garcia, who is in a class by himself and who led him everywhere except HD134, and Obama and Henley in HD149, Skelly led every other Democrat on the ballot wherever they were in CD07. With the exception of Ellen Cohen in HD134, he did better than every State Rep candidate who faced a Republican as well – Chad Khan (126), Kristi Thibaut (133), Trey Fleming (135), Ginny McDavid (138), and Hubert Vo (149). I have to say, I find it hard to find fault with that kind of performance.

Another way of looking at this is to map the way CD07 has evolved since 2004. Here’s Skelly against his predecessors:

Dist Martinez Henley Skelly ============================== CD07 34.19 39.36 43.05 134 43.03 52.06 52.19 Not134 31.30 34.72 40.24

The trend is pretty clear. What isn’t clear from these numbers is just how much better Skelly’s performance was in the HD134 portion of CD07 than Henley’s in 2006. (HD134 is almost, but not quite, entirely within CD07. There’s one substantive precinct in Al Green’s CD09, and one precinct with basically no voters there as well. For these purposes, when I say HD134, assume I’m referring to the all-but-one-precincts that are within CD07.) The difference here is that HD134 was a lot more Republican than you might have thought it would be. In 2006, seven Democratic candidates out of 19 got a majority of the vote in 134 – Henley, Cohen, Bill Moody, Jim Sharp, Richard Garcia, Mary Kay Green. and Andrew Burks. The average countywide Dem received 48.42% of the vote there. In 2008, exactly three Democrats cleared 50% – Cohen, Skelly, and Adrian Garcia. Henley got 48.38%; Sharp got 47.93%. The average Democratic judicial candidate, as we have already seen, got 44.08%. What that means is that while Henley was exceeding the average in HD134 by three and a half points, Skelly topped it by eight. That’s mighty impressive.

(In case you’re curious, by the way, the average Democratic judicial candidate got 43.60% in HD134. That puts a slightly different spin on this year’s judicial results than I had suggested before, as John Kerry got 45.01%. It may just be that the voters there lean more Republican at the local level than they do at the top of the ticket. If so, the difference this year was profound.)

By the way, since there’s been so much fixation on straight-ticket voting since the election, Culberson beat Skelly in the straight ticket votes, 103,445 to 63,826. Skelly beat Culberson among those who voted individual races, 59,729 to 58,652. Not that it really means anything, since despite all the aversions cast on them for the judicial races, straight-ticket voters are still voters. But I thought I’d point it out.

Couple more points. You may recall earlier this year when Culberson said his race was the most important on the ballot for local Republicans. Here’s how he described it to Miya Shay:

[He] told me yesterday that he sees the District 7 race as a “Firewall” for county wide Republicans. “I believe that if we don’t get my re-election numbers into the 60s percentage, then every Republican in Harris County could lose.” Culberson says that’s why the Democratic party is running such a rich guy, basically to beat him down.. and bring the Repub party along. In essence, he says he can still win his seat, while Harris County Repubs lose all of theirs.

Give the devil his due, because he was right: He didn’t get into the 60s, and most Republicans lost. It’s very simple – there are a lot of voters in his district, mostly in the western end of it, and they usually vote heavily Republican. But not so much any more, as we’ve been seeing, and it had an effect both in the overlapping State House districts as well as in Harris County as a whole.

What will happen next in CD07? Alan Bernstein suggested that since Culberson (and Mike McCaul in CD10) faced his toughest challenge yet successfully, he may get a breather:

Seeing that the Obama push and the Democratic money was not enough to turn those districts the other way, potential Democratic challengers for 2010 may balk at taking on these House members.

That’s certainly possible, and it was my immediate thought when I saw the election night returns. But who knows? The trend is clear, and while there won’t be Barack Obama on the ticket in 2010, there might be Bill White, who would presumably actually campaign here. Especially if someone notices the purpling of HDs 126, 132, and 135, there may well be more Democratic challenges in that part of the county. I think Culberson is unlikely to see a challenge like Skelly’s in two years’ time – unless Skelly himself decides to try again, of course – but I do think he’s seen his last easy race, until and unless redistricting rescues him.

Finally, a word about HD134, which is a key part of this district. I knew HD134 was mostly Republican in 2006, and I expected it to be at best 50-50 this time around. I was surprised to see how relatively red it turned out to be. Which is why it continues to amaze me that the Republicans totally punted on giving Cohen a serious challenge. They had a candidate who was attractive on paper, but he never did a thing, and wound up running more than ten points behind the GOP average in the district. I remember Bill Kelly, who had been Cohen’s campaign manager in 2006, telling me early on that Cohen would work the district as hard as she’d done before, because there were a lot of voters there who had not yet ever cast a ballot for her, and they were not going to take any of them for granted. To say the least, he was right about that. My guess is that things are more like 2006 than 2008 in 2010, but I bet Team Cohen won’t take that for granted, either.

Precinct analysis: The declining Republican brand

I’m just going to dive into this one, because the numbers pretty much speak for themselves. The following is a comparison between 2004 and 2008 in Harris County in various Republican districts. I’m comparing John Kerry’s performance to Barack Obama’s, Guy Clark’s to Adrian Garcia’s in the Sheriff’s race, and three candidates who were on the ballot each year, for similar but not exactly the same offices – JR Molina, who was the high Democratic scorer statewide in 2004; Kathy Stone, who was the top votegetter and percentage performer for Dems in Harris County in 2004; and Jim Sharp, who broke through to win a First District Court of Appeals race this year. Here are the numbers:

2004 Dist Kerry Clark Molina Stone Sharp ========================================== CD07 35.7 32.6 34.8 37.5 35.7 CD22 35.6 32.3 38.4 36.2 35.7 SD11 32.0 32.5 34.4 35.7 35.2 126 32.0 31.2 32.9 34.0 33.4 127 27.0 26.8 28.3 29.5 29.3 128 31.8 33.5 35.5 36.5 36.7 129 32.2 31.7 33.4 35.1 34.0 130 23.4 23.0 24.2 25.1 25.1 132 28.8 28.9 30.3 31.3 31.2 133 43.9 42.4 44.0 46.1 44.5 134 45.6 40.6 43.3 47.3 44.3 135 33.9 33.3 35.5 36.3 36.3 136 29.8 26.1 28.1 31.5 28.9 137 55.3 54.8 57.1 58.0 56.8 138 39.7 37.4 40.3 42.5 40.8 144 35.5 37.3 39.9 40.4 40.5 145 57.0 59.7 65.1 63.3 62.3 148 58.3 57.4 62.0 62.3 61.1 149 46.6 46.1 47.9 48.8 47.9 150 26.7 26.5 28.1 29.2 29.0 2008 Dist Obama Garcia Molina Stone Sharp ========================================== CD07 41.1 45.6 39.1 40.6 41.1 CD22 36.2 44.0 38.0 39.3 39.6 SD11 35.3 43.1 37.1 38.5 38.8 126 41.9 46.8 41.7 42.7 42.9 127 31.5 38.0 32.0 33.7 33.8 128 33.8 42.4 37.6 39.3 39.9 129 36.3 42.2 36.1 37.6 37.8 130 28.8 34.4 28.2 29.5 29.8 132 40.1 45.6 40.4 41.9 41.9 133 52.2 56.0 51.4 52.4 52.7 134 49.5 52.2 45.5 47.1 48.1 135 41.3 47.6 41.5 42.8 42.8 136 33.9 37.6 30.1 32.7 33.3 137 61.8 66.7 63.1 63.5 63.7 138 44.3 52.8 45.0 46.4 46.7 144 40.6 50.4 45.0 45.8 45.9 145 62.3 75.6 71.4 69.5 69.7 148 60.0 69.6 62.8 62.5 63.2 149 54.7 58.8 55.2 55.9 55.8 150 35.1 41.7 35.5 37.0 37.1

If these numbers don’t make your eyes bug out, I don’t know what would. Here’s what I see when I look at them.

– John Kerry scored 44.55% in 2004, Barack Obama got 50.42%. That’s a six-point increase overall, but as you can see the increase was not uniform. The gains in HDs 126, 132, and 150 particularly stand out to me. This is the flip side of the coin I’ve been talking about: Just as the Dems could not have made this huge stride in Harris County without doing so much better in traditionally red areas, so can the Republicans no longer hope to dominate county politics if they’re not running up the score in places like those. While there may have been a turnout boost for the Dems this year that was aided by the dynamics of a Dem-friendly environment and an inspirational candidate, the trends that led to these numbers aren’t going away.

– Despite winning at least one marginal state house seat every year since the new map was rolled out in 2002, the Democrats do not have any more seats at risk now than they have had in years past. Scott Hochberg, who was supposed to have been drawn out of the Lege in 2002, is safe. Hubert Vo is safe. Ellen Cohen is likely safe, even though her district isn’t blue like those two. Kristi Thibaut will have a tough fight in 2010, but that’s the only pickup opportunity the Rs will have, and they’ll have to defend Ken Legler in HD144 while worrying about someone emerging to knock off Patricia Harless, Gary Elkins, or Bill Callegari. I know which position I’d rather be in.

– Even if the battlefield in 2010 is just 133 and 144, how will the Republicans protect their incumbents in 2011 for the next decade? Take a look at that Stiles map again, and ask yourself how they keep those three safe going forward. I think it’s impossible, and they’d be better off trying to consolidate rather than spread what remains of their base too thin in what will surely be a futile attempt to maximize what they can retain.

– And while you’re at it, ponder how a new Congressional district might fit into the western part of the county. My guess is that CD07 will shift back to the farther reaches of Harris, perhaps even stretch into Fort Bend, and we’ll see a reconstituted version of the old 25th arise to once again represent central Houston with a Democrat.

– Just to keep beating this point into submission, the Democratic gains from the strong-R districts played a huge role in the bluing of Harris County. If you just take HDs 126, 132, 135, and 150, and have them perform at 2004 levels instead of what we saw this year, by my rough estimate the Dems would have lost about 20,000 votes, with the Republicans gaining that much. That not only swings nearly every race back to the GOP – by my reckoning, only Adrian Garcia, Debby Kerner, Jim Henley, and Kathy Stone could withstand a 40,000-vote hit to their totals and still win for sure – it’s more than we could squeeze out of the Democratic districts. If we could have jacked up turnout in the four Hispanic districts – HDs 140, 143, 145, and 148 – to the same 67% level that the strong Rs performed at, we’d have gotten about 45,000 more voters total. But since about a third of those voters would be going Republican, the Dems would net 15,000 votes. Doing that on top of what we did this year would net us three more judges – everyone but Ashish Mahendru – plus Brad Bradford, but David Mincberg and Diane Trautman would still fall short. Again, the point is that Democratic voters are everywhere in the county, and we cannot be narrow in our focus when it comes to turnout strategy.

– For all these reasons, I strongly disagree with Dave Mann and his claim that the election was a failure due to poor Democratic turnout. We did get a boost in Democratic turnout, it was just spread out over the entire county instead of being concentrated in a few familiar places. Which as I’ve just said is a good thing, because we wouldn’t have won squat otherwise. I agree with Greg, and with Ed Martin and Matt Angle: Democratic turnout was fine, we won partly because we found new sources of Democratic performance, including in places we weren’t really looking, and we did about as well as we could reasonably expect under the circumstances. For crying out loud, we gained six points and nearly 90,000 votes in four years. That’s outstanding.

I think I’m about out of steam here. Tell me what you think, and I’ll have more to come soon.

UPDATE: Burt Levine’s comment reminds me that I forgot to explain my inclusion of HDs 145 and 148 in this comparison. Simply put, as you can see by Kerry’s score in those districts, they might not have appeared as solidly Democratic in 2004 as you might have thought they were. Whatever the case then, it’s not the case now, and so I included them to further illustrate how the GOP’s fortunes have receded.

Meet the new District Clerk

Loren Jackson, our newly-elected District Clerk, will be sworn in this afternoon to fill out the unexpired portion of former Clerk Charles Bacarisse’s term. He gets to start right away instead of waiting till January because it’s an unexpired term. The ceremony will take place at 3 PM in the Jury Assembly Room at 1019 Congress. See Stace for the invitation. And congrats to Loren Jackson, who will officially become Harris County’s first serving countywide Democratic elected official in a decade.

Election date set for SD17

And the winner is…December 16.

Gov. Rick Perry today announced a special runoff election to fill the vacancy in Senate District 17 to be held on Dec. 16, 2008. A special election to fill the seat left vacant by the resignation of Sen. Kyle Janek was held during the November 4 general election; however no candidate received a majority of the votes, as mandated by state law.

Early voting will run from December 8 through December 12.

Not December 20, as I had surmised (I had this funny idea that runoffs and special elections were generally held on Saturdays – not sure if I was nuts to think that or not), but still, nine days before Christmas, and not a single minute of voting to be held on a weekend. You think the Republicans might be hoping for miniscule turnout here? If you want to help combat that, get thee to a Bell campaign HQ location and do what you can.

Precinct analysis: The Obama effect

Ready for some precinct data analysis? Let’s get started. There will be a lot of these entries, because there’s a lot of interesting data. Today let’s take a look at how Barack Obama’s performance in Harris County compared to the county Democratic judicial slate, since it was conventional wisdom that as Obama went, so went the judicial hopefuls.

The first question to consider is the coattail effect. I’ve written before that in 2004, Republican judicial candidates lost a lot more votes compared to George Bush than Democratic candidates did compared to John Kerry. My reason for this is that if you were voting for John Kerry in 2004, you were a real true Democrat, and you went on down the line. Bush, however, seemed likely to attract voters who were only interested in his race, and that was borne out by the numbers:

2004 avg GOP 536,000, Bush 584,000, dropoff 48,000
2004 avg Dem 470,000, Kerry 475,000, dropoff 5,000

Bush may have lifted the tide for the incumbent judges in 2004, but they didn’t really need it. There were plenty of Republican voters for them to win. This year, not so much:

2008 avg GOP 540,170, McCain 569,860, dropoff 29,690
2008 avg Dem 558,324, Obama 587,538, dropoff 29,214

Both judicial slates saw an equivalent dropoff from the Presidential vote. This year there were more Democrats voting overall, and that was the difference maker for most. Not for all, since there was a 44,000+ vote gap between the top Democratic judicial candidate and the bottom one, but for 23 of 27.

That’s at the countywide level. Going down to the State Rep district level, you begin to see some patterns. For the most part, you’d expect the average judicial candidate to lose around 1000 votes from the Presidential level in each HD. For many of them, what actually happened was in line with that expectation, adjusted for relative levels of turnout and partisan makeup. In fact, in 17 of the 25 State House districts, the judicial candidates received a percentage of the vote that was within 1.25 points of the Presidentials. One of the eight exceptions was HD142, which is an African-American district. In HD142, where Obama received 79.78% of the vote, Democrats voted down the line at a very high rate, whereas the Republican judicials lost over ten percent of the meager vote total McCain got, from 8401 votes for McCain to 7506 for the judges. The result there was an 81.35% share for the average Democratic judicial candidate.

The remaining seven districts that defied the pattern had some shared characteristics with each other. They are:

1. The Bubba districts

In HDs 128 and 144, which cover places in eastern Harris County like Baytown and Pasadena, Barack Obama did significantly worse than the rest of the Democratic ticket:

Dist McCain Obama M Pct O Pct GOP avg Dem avg GOP % Dem % ================================================================== 128 27,322 13,973 66.16 33.84 24,621 14,542 62.87 37.13 144 23,656 16,167 59.40 40.60 21,172 16,563 56.11 43.89

Here, the GOP suffered its biggest and third-biggest dropoffs (they lost 2,517 votes on average in HD127, but Dems lost 1000 votes as well, which was proportionate to the percentages), while the Dems gained votes in each case. These are working-class districts with a white voting majority, both friendly to the GOP. If Obama had any problems locally with that demographic here, these districts are where you can see the effect.

2. The Hispanic districts

There are four State Rep districts in Harris County that are represented by Hispanic politicians – HDs 140 (Rep.-elect Armando Walle), 143 (Rep. Ana Hernandez), 145 (Rep-elect Carol Alvarado), and 148 (Rep. Jessica Farrar). In all four, Barack Obama received over 60% of the vote. But in three of them, the downballot Democrats did significantly better:

Dist McCain Obama M Pct O Pct GOP avg Dem avg GOP % Dem % ================================================================== 140 6,396 11,450 35.84 64.16 5,111 11,943 29.97 70.03 143 6,729 10,299 39.52 60.48 5,270 10,982 32.43 67.57 145 7,574 12,508 37.72 62.28 5,999 13,082 31.44 68.56 148 13,421 20,137 39.99 60.01 12,198 19,119 38.95 61.05

I’m including HD148 for comparison, even though I consider it to be one of the non-exceptional districts. If there were any remaining Hillary diehards who refused to embrace Obama, I’d have to say this is where they’d be found. Clinton dominated these districts in the primary, so perhaps some of her loyalists refused to push the button for Obama. That did not carry down the ballot, however, and it wasn’t just the judicials who did better than Obama. Everyone from Adrian Garcia (76.2% in HD140, 73.2 in 143, and 75.6 in 145) to Rick Noriega (71.0, 69.3, 73.0) to the statewide Dems, the appeals court candidates, and the rest of the county slate did better than Obama. Maybe McCain still had some unique appeal to these voters, but my guess is they just never got as on board the Obama Express as others did. I’ll refrain from making any remarks about the lack of effort from the Obama campaign to reach these voters like what they did in some other states and move on to the last group. I will, however, make the point that it was only Barack Obama who really underperformed here. Whatever antipathy some voters may have had towards the Presidential nominee was limited to him. Be sure to look at Greg’s take on this as well.

3. The Lawyer districts

Whereas those five districts showed an increase in votes for the downballot Dems over what Obama got, the last two had the exact reverse outcome:

Dist McCain Obama M Pct O Pct GOP avg Dem avg GOP % Dem % ================================================================== 134 35,430 34,740 50.49 49.51 35,977 28,357 55.92 44.08 136 37,958 19,490 66.07 33.93 37,472 16,391 69.57 30.43

These were the only districts in which the GOP judicial incumbents gained votes over John McCain. They weren’t the only ones to do so – John Cornyn did, though Rick Noriega lost about half as many votes as the Dem judicials, and thus was closer percentagewise; Wallace Jefferson also gained votes, as did a couple of the appeals court judges in HD134 – but the effect is striking. My hypothesis here is that these are two of the most affluent districts around, covering places like River Oaks, West U, Bellaire, the Galleria area, and Memorial, and they probably have more lawyers per capita than the rest of the county. It’s not a shock to me that they might have preferred the status quo on the local benches at a higher rate than everyone else, if only to preserve the devils they knew. As foolish as the prediction-making business is, especially this far out, I’ll bet that the new judicial incumbents perform much like their ballotmates in four years’ time, and for the same reason. Someone please make a note to remind me to check that in 2012.

And finally, since there’s been so much written lately about “funny names”, I present the following:

Dist Obama Pereira Pierre Mahendru Murray Mincberg Trautman =================================================================== 128 33.84 35.80 36.10 33.73 35.35 33.19 33.78 144 40.60 42.88 42.69 40.20 41.99 38.80 39.15 140 64.16 70.44 69.12 66.51 67.63 64.86 64.35 143 60.48 67.53 66.37 63.60 65.29 62.29 61.03 145 62.28 69.21 67.39 64.32 65.73 62.14 61.10 148 60.01 60.55 59.46 58.74 58.50 53.42 54.23 134 49.51 42.11 41.65 42.50 41.76 39.69 39.59 136 33.93 28.94 28.95 28.40 28.66 28.03 27.37 Other 51.86 50.82 51.12 49.57 50.55 47.96 48.57

You can make of all that what you will. I note with some interest that Ashish Mahendru did better than the three other unsuccessful Democratic judicial candidates in HD134; perhaps that’s a statement about incumbent Sharon McCally, who had the lowest Republican performance in Harris County in 2004 when Kathy Stone opposed her.

How’s that for a start? Much more to come soon, so stay tuned.

Time to gear up for Chris Bell

There’s still one more election to go before we can put 2008 to bed, and that’s the runoff for the special election in SD17. Democratic candidates got a majority of the vote on November 4, and Chris Bell came out with a 27,000 vote lead over Joan Huffman, and garnered more votes than Huffman and Austen Furst combined. I see a real sense of urgency among local Dems to finish the job on this race, and I have a good feeling about it going into the race.

We don’t yet know when the actual runoff will be – you can put my marker down for December 20, as I’m sure Governor Perry wants this to be as low a turnout affair as possible – but campaign activity is well underway. If you’re in Fort Bend, the Bell campaign will officially open its local headquarters there this Saturday from 1 to 3 PM. The address is 869 Dulles Avenue, Ste. E in Stafford, which is where the Lampson HQ was before. Phone banking is going on now, so if you can’t wait till Saturday for the pomp, head over today for the work. Let’s get that Democratic caucus in the Senate up to 13.

A word on voter registration numbers

After I published my post about where and when the vote was in Harris County, I got an email from HCDP Chair Gerry Birnberg regarding the voter registration numbers. He writes:

One thing to watch out for as you proceed with your analysis: the voter registration numbers upon which the county clerk’s “% of registered voters” numbers are based are materially wrong. Kaufman’s “Cumulative Report” uses a figure for voter registration in Harris County of 1,892,656. The actual number of persons who were registered and eligible to vote on November 4 was at least 1,956,000 (probably up to 10,000 higher than that, because of the additional voters who were added to the list after early voting closed, but were eligible to vote in this election; I don’t know that number, but believe it to be as high as 10,000). The reason for this difference of over 64,000 between Beverly’s 1,892,656 figure and the known figure of 1,956,000 is that Beverly’s figures are based on people who were actually on the rolls as of September 19 only, and were never updated after that date. This is significant because we believe that the great bulk of applications received and approved after 9/19 came from Democratic areas and voters, because we had an active voter registration effort underway while the Republicans did not, to my knowledge.

Why this matter in the post-election analysis is two-fold. First, the conclusion that voter registration was down (compared to 2004 registration numbers) in some Democratic areas is probably incorrect. If the 64,000 post September 19 registrations were added to the totals, I suspect virtually every (if not every) Democratic area will have experienced an increase in voter registration, rather than a decline in some areas, despite the TEAM results which reduced voter registrations across the board as the voter rolls were “cleaned up” for the first time at the centralized, state level. Second, and on the negative side, however, is the fact that if correct voter registration numbers are used, there is an even smaller percentage of registered voters turnout than Ms. Kaufman’s Cumulative Report indicates. (If the denominator — registered voters — is increased, as it should be because the 1,892,656 is incorrectly low — the percentage resulting from dividing the number of voters who voted by the number of registered voters in any area would decrease.) In other words, we voted even a smaller percentage of registered voters in Harris County than Ms. Kaufman’s Cumulative Report indicates.

That’s true, and I mentioned the disparity between the voter reg numbers that were reported after the deadline previously. But please note that I’m using the September registration figures for 2004 as well, since that’s what the County Clerk uses on its cumulative results page. County Clerk Kaufman’s page gives a registered voter total of 1,876,296 for 2004, which is what I used to compare the 2008 numbers to. If you go to the Historic Election Results page on the Secretary of State website and do a County Canvass Report for a race that included Harris in 2004, you get 1,937,072, or about 61,000 more voters, all registered in the latter days of the campaign. I’ve said 2008 is a unique year in American politics, and it certainly is, but I’d bet a lot of those 61,000 late registrants in 2004 were disproportionately Democratic as well. As such, I maintain I’m comparing apples to apples here.

But look, even if you want to quibble about the numbers, the basic point remains the same. Go ahead and assume that the County Clerk’s number is too low by 64,000 or so. Assign all of those voters to the Strong D districts if you want. That gets them from minus 25,000 to plus 39,000, which still lags the growth in the Strong R districts. That’s using a silly assumption against data that has a similar undercount from four years ago, and it still yields the same conclusion: You cannot account for the increased Democratic share of the vote – which you may recall is on the order of 88,000 more votes than 2004 – without concluding that there must be more people voting Democratic in strong R districts. That doesn’t mean we didn’t have better performance in the other districts – we did, and I will demonstrate it in the coming days – it just simply means we shouldn’t be myopic about where “the base” is. Our voters are everywhere, and we need to have a turnout strategy that reflects that.

From the “Predictions that didn’t quite pan out” department

While I maintain that only fools make predictions, not all predictions themselves are foolish. I think I did pretty well on mine, all things considered. But not everyone fared so well. For instance, in the comments to this post, the following prognostication was made by someone named Craig Klein:

Sheila Jackson Lee is in trouble in this election and no one seems to know it… Least of all her!

There have been significant demographic shifts in District 18 since she last had a Republican opponent.

Inner city neighborhoods in the Heights, Garden Oaks, Mid-Town and elsewhere have been redeveloped and incomes have risen.

Also, the # of African Americans living in the district has stayed basically flat while the # of Hispanics has grown by 65,000.

There were a total of 150,000 votes cast in the district in the last election.

Plus the fact that there is a significant amount of disillusionment with Sheila amongst African Americans, as illustrated by Marcus Davis’ considering running against her earlier this year.

John Faulk, the Republican opponent, got a late start but, is working the street hard.

Since she has an opponent this time, she’ll give up 40 to 50k votes to Republican voters, many of whom vote straight ticket. Then Faulk just needs a 50% of the new hispanics and new high income whites in the district and he’s won!

Sounds great! How’d it turn out?

U. S. Representative District 18 John Faulk REP 21,685 17.50% 39,000 20.34% Sheila Jackson Lee DEM 99,548 80.35% 148,204 77.31% Mike Taylor LIB 2,658 2.14% 4,475 2.33%

Boy, missed it by that much.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this, since it was obviously silly. But as this will serve as my kickoff post for precinct data review, there are a couple of things to note. One, Jackson Lee won nearly as many votes this year as were cast in CD18 in 2004, and her percentage was better than it was 2006, when she won with only 76.62% of the vote. So, you know, so much for Craig’s theory. It’s actually even worse than that, since there were over 110,000 straight ticket Democratic votes cast in CD18, which as you can see would have put Jackson Lee over 50% even if those were the only votes she’d gotten. And she still got 70% of the remaining votes, so pretty much no matter how you slice it, this was a no-doubt-about-it race.

One last thing: Though Barack Obama got more votes in CD18 than Jackson Lee did (150,226 to 148,204), so did John McCain get more than John Faulk, and McCain’s total was high enough at 43,109 to keep Obama’s share of the vote lower than Jackson Lee’s in the straight two-party matchup. Obama got 77.7% of the R/D share, Jackson Lee 79.2%. Maybe there’s still a desire by some to primary her in 2010 for having supported Hillary Clinton this year, but I’d say these numbers show an awful lot of forgive-and-forget. And if that isn’t happening, there’s no way you’ll get her out before she’s ready to leave on her own terms. This is her district.

The counting is over

All of the ballots in Harris County have now been counted, and the results of all the races remain the same.

Before Thursday, for instance, Democratic challenger Josefina Muniz Rendon was ahead of Republican state District Judge Elizabeth Ray by only 135 of the 1.1 million votes cast in the race. The Democrat’s winning margin is now 520.

In the other closest race, Republican state District Judge Joseph “Tad” Halbach’s margin over Democrat Goodwille Pierre shrank to 230 votes from 595.

All other county races were decided by bigger vote gaps and were not affected by the new vote totals. Democratic challengers defeated 23 of the 27 Republican judges on the ballot.

[…]

The final tallies triggered former Houston Police Chief C.O. “Brad” Bradford’s concession of defeat in his race for district attorney against Republican Pat Lykos. He had been waiting for the final totals in a contest he ended up losing by less than 5,000 votes.

“I want to congratulate Judge Lykos on her victory and wish her all the best as she moves forward in the District Attorney’s Office,” the Democrat said after talking to Lykos by phone. “We raised a number of important issues in this campaign, and I hope these issues will continue to be discussed and resolved — issues such as jail overcrowding, getting alternative treatment for the mentally ill and substance abusers, a public defender’s office and reform of the grand jury system.”

Lykos said she hopes to meet with Bradford to reminisce about the campaign and discuss ways to develop policies they agreed on, including treatment options for mentally ill accused criminals.

Seems unlikely there will be recounts, so the remaining action is in SD17 for the runoff and HD105 for the recount there. There was, however, some drama with this tally:

During the counting process, the Texas Democratic Party accused voter registrar Paul Bettencourt, a Republican, of delaying the verifications. Jim Harding, the Republican chief of a bipartisan ballot board, which made final decisions on which ballots were valid, accused Bettencourt of supplying the board with faulty records.

Bettencourt denied the allegations. After the Chronicle published Harding’s statements, Bettencourt firmly asserted his denials in phone messages to Harding, the men said.

In turn, Harding alleged Thursday that Bettencourt’s calls were improper attempts to influence how the ballot board did business. He discussed the messages with County Attorney First Assistant John Barnhill, who was unavailable for comment.

Bettencourt said he had merely defended his staff’s performance — without questioning the board’s decision to accept some provisional ballots that Bettencourt’s workers had classified as incomplete.

Harding’s statements were in yesterday’s story.

Republican Jim Harding, a retired Houston business executive who chairs the ballot board of about 35 people, said the counting process was delayed by faulty work by Bettencourt’s staff.

The problems included hundreds of voter forms whose information the registrar’s staff masked with white correction fluid and then altered with new information, Harding said.

As ballot board members determined whether ballots should be counted, he said, they wanted to have confidence in the accuracy of the registrar’s research.

But “that kind of confidence is not replicated here, and then when they see this ‘white-out’ all over the place they get nervous,” he said.

Also, the board has accepted ballots cast by voters whose registrations had been classified by Bettencourt’s staff as incomplete, Harding said. In many cases records showed voters had visited state Department of Public Safety offices where they claimed to have registered to vote, Harding explained, and the ballot board is giving those voters the benefit of the doubt.

Harding said there were more errors and related voting records problems than in five previous elections in which he served on the ballot board.

Some of that will come out when the remaining claims in the Texas Democratic Party’s lawsuit against Bettencourt goes forward next year. I can certainly believe Bettencourt has been putting his thumb on the scale, but I’ll be a little amazed if he was careless enough about it to get caught out.

Precinct data: Coming attractions

I have a draft canvass of precinct data for Harris County, and have been happily slicing and dicing it to see what secrets I can tease out. There’s all kind of fascinating stuff in there – right now my biggest problem is figuring out where to begin – so let me give you a preview of some of it.

– Republican strength has eroded across the board in Harris County. Some “safe” State Rep districts are a lot more competitive than you might think.

– The Obama effect: Where the President-elect ran ahead of the pack, where he ran behind, and how that might have affected downballot races.

– West Harris County ain’t what it used to be, and that affords plenty of opportunities for Democrats going forward.

– The Adrian Garcia juggernaut.

– Who were the strongest candidates relative to their partymates, and who were the weakest? And how far apart were they?

All this and more, thanks to the magic of Excel and the benificence of the County Clerk’s office. Stay tuned!

Where – and when – the vote was

I have finally received precinct data from Harris County. It’s going to take me a little while to work through it to start getting some answers about how the votes were distributed – Matt Stiles, who got his draft canvass earlier, produced a colored map from it that you should see – but in the meantime, I want to discuss a couple of trends that are fairly easy to spot even with the data that I had at the time. Here is a Google spreadsheet that compares the number of votes, registered voters, and early votes in each State Rep district from 2004 to 2008. There are two points that need to be made, because I think they go a long way towards explaining what happened these past few weeks.

First, let’s look at where the voters are. I began by classifying the 25 State Rep districts in Harris County as Strong D, Strong R, and Swing. They are:

Strong D – HDs 131, 137, 139, 140, 141, 142, 143, 145, 146, 147, 148
Strong R – HDs 126, 127, 128, 129, 130, 132, 135, 136, 138, 150
Swing – HDs 133, 134, 144, 149

Note that all four of the swing districts were held by Republicans going into the 2004 election. Dems won HD149 in 2004, 134 in 2006, and 133 this year.

The first thing to notice on the spreadsheet is that there’s a whole lot more voters in the strong R districts than there are in the strong Ds:

Dist type 04 voters 04 avg 08 voters 08 avg Change ========================================================== Strong D 700,638 63,694 676,691 61,517 -25,563 Strong R 860,816 86,082 907,006 90,701 +46,190 Swing 314,842 78,710 310,575 77,644 -4,267

What had been a 160,000 voter registration gap in favor of the Strong R districts is now 230,000. Of the 14 districts now held by Democratic State Reps, only three – HDs 131 (+838), 141 (+582), and 149 (+2,350) – gained voters. Six of the eleven Republican districts grew – HDs 126 (+1,371), 127 (+4,406), 130 (+20,948), 132 (+18,743), 135 (+1,475), and 150 (+9,393). Whether this is demographics or a good illustration of the Bettencourt Effect is unclear, but the challenge to Democrats running countywide isn’t. You can’t win as a Democrat in Harris County solely by turning out voters in Democratic districts. There’s far too many voters outside of those districts, and you need as many of them as you can get.

It’s not just registrations. The percentage of voters who turned out increased in every district, though as Marc Campos noted, in some cases that meant the number of voters declined, thanks to the lower registration rates. But as above, the increase was greater in the Republican districts:

Dist type 04 votes 04 pct 08 votes 08 pct Change ========================================================== Strong D 348,135 49.69% 374,217 55.43% +5.74 Strong R 546,774 63.52% 607,814 67.01% +3.49 Swing 193,423 61.43% 201,785 64.97% +3.54

The rate of increase in the Dem districts was highest, but turnout still lagged the R districts by double digits. What’s more, the Republican districts were a greater share of the electorate in 2008 than in 2004. In 2004, 50.24% of all votes were cast in the Strong R districts, while the Strong Ds accounted for 31.99% and the Swings the remaining 17.77%. In 2008, the percentages were 51.34% Strong R, 31.61% Strong D, and 17.05% Swing.

Yet with all these factors seemingly working against the Democrats, the results in 2008 wre completely different, Every statewide Dem won at least a plurality of the vote. All appeals court candidates won majorities. Dems won 27 of 34 contested countywide races, and picked up a State House seat to increase their majority of the delegation to 14-11.

How could this be? The answer is obvious: More Democrats live in the Strong R districts than vice versa (and also in the swing districts, three of which are held by Democratic reps), and more of them are there now than were in 2004. This is clear not only from the countywide results, but also from some of the state rep races and from the March primaries. Consider some of the State Rep races. In 2004, the winning margins for Republican candidates over their Democratic challengers in HDs 126, 127, and 138 were 69.3/30.7, 70.4/29.6, and 63.8/36.2, respectively. In 2008, those results were 59.4/38.4, 65.7/32.3, and 59.0/41.0 (there were Libertarian candidates this year in 126 and 127). It’s highly likely that other Dems did better in those districts, as well as in the others, than they did in 2004. I’ll know for sure when I get the precinct data, but it should be clear to see: The Dems gained a lot of ground in the reddest places. They even turned some of them blue. I’d call that the fruition of the “Run Everywhere” strategy.

I’m discussing all this at such great length because I want to make this point crystal clear, and I haven’t yet seen it in any of the analysis I’ve seen so far about turnout, the Latino vote, etc. That point is that Democrats won up and down the ballot despite having fewer voters, in both an absolute and a relative sense, than they did in 2004. The Democratic base doesn’t just exist in the same familiar places any more. It’s everywhere in the county, and any strategy for winning the county again in 2010 has to take that into effect.

The other topic to discuss is early voting. As we saw this year, early voting increased by a lot, which caused some projections of the final turnout to be far higher than the actual amount. It also made for a change on Election Day, as the usual dynamic of early Republican leads that got whittled into as Tuesday returns trickled in was reversed. The question is whether there was a late surge of Republican voting, or if it was just the case that the Democrats shot their load early and had little left for Tuesday. Here’s how these numbers looked:

Dist type 04 early 04 pct 08 early 08 pct Change ========================================================== Strong D 121,938 35.03% 220,763 58.99% +68.43% Strong R 212,103 38.79% 341,767 56.23% +44.95% Swing 77,726 40.18% 114,161 56.58% +40.79%

Voters in all districts went to the polls early at a higher rate than they did in 2004, but proportionally the Democrats did more of this. Voters in the Strong D districts, which as we know are more Democratic than the Strong R districts are Republican, made up 32.62% of the early vote this year, as opposed to 29.61% of the early vote in 2004; for the Strong Rs, the numbers were 50.51% in 2008 and 51.51% in 2004. The flip side of this is that these voters were a much smaller share of the Tuesday vote. Strong D voters were 33.43% of the E-Day vote in 2004, and 30.26% of it in 2008, whereas Strong Rs were 47.47% of the E-Day vote in 2004, and 52.46% of it in 2008. I don’t have enough evidence to judge whether or not the Republicans had a late rush to the polls, which is to say if they wound up with more voters on Tuesday than they had originally expected, but it seems clear that the Democrats had a greater shift towards early voting, which put the Republicans in the catchup position afterward.

All righty then. I hope this holds us all off till I work my way through the precinct data.