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October 24th, 2018:

Day 2 early voting: Reporting from elsewhere

It was busy everywhere.

Tens of thousands of Texas voters turned out across the state to cast their ballots on Monday, the first day of early voting for the 2018 midterm elections.

The state’s largest counties all saw much larger first-day turnout than they did in the previous midterm elections in 2014. Dallas County’s combined in person and mail-in votes topped out at 55,384 on Monday, almost 26,000 more than were cast in 2014, according to The Dallas Morning News.

In Bexar County, The San Antonio Express News reported that as of 4 p.m. Monday more than 24,000 people had voted in person, compared to 13,436 who voted in person first day in 2014.

Bruce Elfant, Travis County Tax Assessor-Collector and Voter Registrar, reported on Facebook Monday night in-person and mail-in votes for Travis County totaled 47,405, compared to 17,181 first-day in-person and mail-in votes in 2014.

Smaller counties also saw big turnout. Midland County Election Administrator Deborah Land said out of 84,945 registered voters in her county, 3,546 had voted by 4 p.m. Monday — compared to just 756 who voted the first day in 2014.

“We had a line at the elections office all day,” Land said. “Most of the time it was extending down the hallway.”

[…]

In El Paso County, O’Rourke’s home county, a record 17,131 voters turned out Monday as of 7 p.m., said Melissa Rosales, the county’s elections information and resource coordinator.

[…]

[Renée Cross, senior director for the Hobby School of Public Affairs at the University of Houston] said first-day early voting numbers could be indicative of the high number of voter registrations Democrats have garnered this election season in hopes of a “blue wave” giving them control of Congress. However, Cross said it is still be too early to tell what the outcome will be on Election Day.

“If you look at the increase in the number of voters, number of registrations … of those people the common sense tells you those new voters are going to be Democrats. If that’s the case, their overall numbers will increase substantially, but is it enough to overtake the Republican control?”

We should not draw conclusions from one day. But my observation yesterday was that Day One tends to set the tone for the week, and, well, no need to keep you in suspense. Here are the totals for Tuesday, and here are the daily totals from 2010, from 2014, and from 2016, as well as a spreadsheet with totals from 2004, 2008, 2012, and 2016. The running tallies:


Year    Mail    Early    Total
==============================
2010  25,725   53,496   79,221
2014  42,752   40,595   83,347
2018  53,947  127,969  181,916

2008  30,318   82,612  112,930
2012  44,093   98,671  142,764
2016  64,377  141,013  205,390

While the number of mail ballots returned dropped to a normal one-day number, the in person total was slightly higher on Tuesday than it was on Monday, which is to say basically what I suggested it would be, given past history. That could still drop, but as you can see right now we are not just turning out at a level far higher than past off years, we’re higher than two out of the last three Presidential years. At this pace, even if some two thirds to three quarters of the total vote is cast early, we’ll surpass a million voters in Harris County. If that happens, I’m thinking some pollsters may have to revisit their own turnout models.

City seeks more Harvey recovery funds

Good. Seek all you can.

The City of Houston is preparing to ask Congress for $2 billion more to help residents whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Harvey — a request likely to coincide with lawmakers’ consideration of aid to victims of hurricanes Florence and Michael, which devastated sections of North Carolina and Florida.

The city is basing its request on a new study that departs from the traditional method of calculating need. The difference boils down to who gets counted.

The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development looks at recipients of individual assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to determine how much additional aid is needed. Houston’s study includes many more people affected by Harvey’s flooding, whether or not they applied for aid from FEMA.

“We’re chronically undercounting the most vulnerable populations,” said Tom McCasland, director of the Houston Housing and Community Development Department. “That’s why it’s important not to start with FEMA.”

[…]

Houston based its analysis on flood modeling that uses data points such as drone imagery of the storm and flooding. The city’s Housing and Community Development Department now has maps of every lot and building in the city with blue shading representing areas that were likely submerged.

Houston’s analysis also considered factors such as the building’s size and the lot’s surface permeability to calculate the likely damage caused to the home and its contents.

The conclusion: Harvey inflicted $16 billion of residential damage on the city, $3.1 billion of which the city believes meets HUD’s criteria for unmet need. That’s about $2 billion more than the amount HUD is already sending for unmet housing needs in Houston.

HUD may or may not buy the city’s calculations, but there’s no harm in trying. As McCasland says in the piece, the data the city will generate from putting the request together will be beneficial in itself.

Endorsement watch: Don’t forget the judges

The Chron got some national buzz for their blanket non-endorsement of judges who support the current bail structure, but overall they’re supported a large number of Republican incumbents on the bench. Not all by any means, but well more than a majority. I want to highlight three races where they endorsed Democratic challengers, as in all three cases the Republicans (two incumbents, one running for an open seat) are truly deserving of defeat.

For Supreme Court, Place 4, the Chron endorsed RK Sandill:

RK Sandill

District Judge R.K. Sandill is running for our state’s highest civil judicial office on a platform of moderation. We don’t usually hear that from judicial candidates, but most don’t run against an incumbent like John Devine.

Devine gained a reputation as an ideologue when he campaigned for district court with the promise to “put Christianity into government.” As a district judge, he cemented his reputation as a hard-right jurist when he fought to keep the Ten Commandments on display in his Houston courtroom. More recently, Devine wrote a bizarre dissent to a decision by his colleagues not to hear a case involving same-sex spousal benefits for city of Houston employees.

Devine wrote that government is justified in treating same-sex couples differently because “opposite-sex marriage is the only marital relationship where children are raised by their biological parents.” He completely ignored that the Supreme Court has held that the Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation in the case of marriage.

But you don’t have to rely on our assessment of Divine’s bias. Almost half of the attorneys polled in the Houston Bar Association 2017 judicial evaluation questionnaire gave him the lowest possible rating for impartiality. Sandill received more favorable votes on the Houston Bar Association preference poll than the one-term Devine — a rare occurrence of a challenger beating an incumbent. In the State Bar of Texas poll, Sandill received 2,446 votes to Devine’s 1,957.

Add our endorsement to the list.

Devine has been an embarrassment since he knocked off a perfectly fine district court judge in Harris County in 1994. He doesn’t belong anywhere near a bench. The Chron also endorsed Steven Kirkland for Place 2, but at least the incumbent he opposes isn’t a complete travesty.

For Presiding Judge of the Court of Criminal Appeals, the Chron endorsed Maria T. (Terri) Jackson:

Terri Jackson

The editorial board has faced so many tough decisions in our judicial endorsements that it’s a relief to have an easy choice. Voters should confidently pull the lever for Maria T. Jackson, 54, in this race for presiding judge on Texas’ highest criminal court. Jackson has been the criminal district court judge in Houston for more than a decade, handling thousands of cases ranging from low-level drug offenses to capital murder. She told us she’s only been reversed twice by the court she’s seeking to join.

The former municipal judge is proud of the many people she has helped to rehabilitate, but she first experienced transforming lives in the 1980s as director of a school that helped juvenile offenders and gang members.

Overall, Jackson’s approach reflects a blend of toughness and compassion. After she adopted more stringent probation policies for DWI defendants, the entire county soon followed her example.

The graduate of Texas A&M School of Law, formerly Texas Wesleyan School of Law, noted that people don’t tend to care about judges until they need them. But voters should care about ethics questions concerning the current presiding judge of Texas’ highest criminal court, Sharon Keller.

I trust you are familiar with Sharon Keller and her disgraceful body of work. If we want real criminal justice reform, we need some change at the top of the judicial heap as well as in the district courts and DA offices.

Finally, for First Court of Appeals, Place 7, the Chron endorsed Julie Countiss. They begin with the story of how outgoing Justice Terry Jennings switched to the Democratic Party just before the 2016 election, saying the GOP had left him behind:

Julie Countiss

Candidate Terry Yates, on the other hand, seems to fit in with the party Jennings abandoned.

Yates filed an amicus brief asking the 14th Court of Appeals not to construe the right to same-sex marriage to apply to equal partner benefits for city of Houston employees.

Counsel should have the right to advocate for the positions of their clients, but when we asked him about the legality of same-sex marriage during an editorial board meeting, Yates said he didn’t have a deep enough understanding of the overarching Supreme Court case to weigh in.

Throughout the meeting he dodged and weaved when we asked about his political activities and relationship with Steve Hotze — a political activist who once proclaimed that all the gays needed to be driven out of Houston and whose organization has been declared a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The close ties to Hotze is more than enough to disqualify Yates. Countiss only got one paragraph in the Chron endorsement, but it’s enough. Her Q&A with me is here. If you have Republican friends who are willing to split their ticket here and there, these are three races you can pitch to them for that.